Chinese cuisine's emphasis on freshness drives consumer behavior in grocery shopping and the channels that supply them. Unfortunately, supermarkets and hypermarkets are commonly perceived as "modern" and wet markets as traditional, out of date, and fading away. In reality, wet markets are modern, up-to-date, end points of JIT (Just In Time) logistic systems. Western researchers and managers often overlook this important channel. In this episode, Antony meets up with Clyde and James for a walk through a typical wet market in Shanghai, enjoying the fresh food, kaleidoscope of colors, and variety of products--truly a one stop shopping experience. This is one of the most exciting retail landscapes we have ever experienced, yet it is off the map of Westernized retailers and researchers. Come to see the very successful wet market that is inherently modern by responding with an experience and products that customers want.
Shanghai wet markets are located for ease of access. Hypermarkets, like Carrefour have countered with free buses to and from their stores, but daily purchasing of food in small fresh amounts creates high demand for many local locations. As in Taiwan, competing with fresh emphasis has been difficult for hypermarkets to deal with. This walk through shows what is so attractive about wet markets. Fresh food, open for inspection is the main advantage. Since so many people will be shopping for their daily food needs, other retailers open within and around the wet market. Ready to eat food (take away), dry goods, and even medical supplies and treatments are available.
In the West, an emerging emphasis on a more sustainable food distribution system can bee seen in books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan . It is unclear how wet markets like this one score on such a goal, but it is clear that buying one's food fresh, touching it, building a relationship with stall owners, getting input on cooking techniques, and even choosing the chicken you want for dinner gets you closer to the whole process. Wet markets, like this one, are not necessarily totally local. In fact, the USDA scored big in Taiwan in the 1980s by helping US fruit exporters to link up with Taiwan's wet market distribution channel. This channel clearly has benefits and fits very well with the Chinese emphasis on fresh ingredients. The servicescape is more colourful, the location more convenient, and the prices often lower, than the international hypermarkets we often read about. Contrary to popular belief, these markets are competing and present a stiff challenge to hypermarkets.
It's really about using all the senses to judge the product you are getting--sight, touch, smell . . . you are invited to participate, to get closer.
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