A new factor in the food distribution game is one of the main driving forces of globalization as a whole: the Internet. A third method of food distribution is becoming increasingly (albeit slowly) more feasible: online ordering for pick up or even delivery. Supermarket chains like Carrefour and Monoprix are offering online ordering and delivery services, and independent companies providing this service have popped up as well (such as Houra, which also delivers other products – clothes and small furniture – that a supermarket might carry). Could the “cybermarché” be the next step in food distribution, and if so, what will this mean for traditional food networks?
Over the last two weeks I have taken an in-depth look at the two main food distribution networks in France: supermarkets, and local markets. I directly compared my experience shopping at a supermarket in my area, Carrefour, and my local market. The conclusions I drew were simple: the local market was a better experience, but more expensive and time-consuming. It was something I had to plan for, because it only occurred twice a week. It had to coincide with my schedule, and I had to be willing to spend a little bit more money. Feasibly the higher cost is for higher quality; however this was not a hard and fast rule, and there were some brand-name products for sale that could be found at any supermarket for a lower cost. Overall, the quality of foods available at the market was definitely higher, and represented more accurately regional French products and food traditions. The question that arose at the end of my comparison was this: will the local market be able to survive the shifting consumer climate? Supermarkets better suit time and money constraints, but fail to provide the community-building social experience of the local market. Is community building and social experience enough to keep local markets competitive with retail giants increasingly monopolizing the food industry? Furthermore, I wonder if the supermarket’s reproduction of “traditional French” products through advertising techniques will be an adequate reflection of French regional specialties and their revered place in French culture. The market is definitely still important in French daily life, but the development of a more integrated world could change this.
In terms of preserving local markets, the “cybermarché” could actually be a good thing. Online food ordering and delivery services could partner with local producers to bring people quality goods direct from the farm to their doorstep. Consumers might also respond by ordering staple pantry items (dry and canned goods) online, and shopping for fresh produce and meat at a local market. The division of food distribution seems to be shifting, with local markets filling more of a specialty niche rather than everyday food shopping. Online ordering could also be a huge detriment to local suppliers and markets, if the services partnered only with industrial giants or supermarkets in a potential monopoly. The community-building social aspect of the local market is still important; but will the next generation find the Internet, with its array of social media and seemingly endless possibilities, an adequate replacement for this?
For now, the local market in France lives on, despite stiff competition from supermarkets and alternative food distribution networks. I believe that ultimately the local market will survive, due to the strong cultural history and important place in French national identity. But it might change, just a little bit, as all things do when faced with structural political and economic shifts. Culture, after all, is dynamic and constantly changing to adapt to those who shape it. The local market is going to have to find a way to restructure itself to fit consumer demands and needs; hopefully the integrity of artisanal producers and the high quality regional specialties of France will not be lost in the process, but celebrated and emphasized.