Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Hong Kong's Small Markets Survived Commercialization


Today, the U.S. is full of expensive, high-end restaurants in many cities. Just around the corner from these restaurants are people struggling and living in food deserts. Traditional grocery stores and supermarkets have been shutting down to make way for fast food and drug stores for several years. This is due to financial struggles especially in pricey cities. It is not surprising that these neighborhoods that have lost their grocery stores report a higher rate of obesity and diabetes. From the work researched and written by Susanne Freidberg, she has explored how the small wet fish markets in Hong Kong (equivelant to our small grocery stores) have survived through all the odds and their strategy behind it. The research she has done is a great example on how to apply a strong relationship between policy, culture and the economics of urban food supply. Her excerpt here:

"I visited some of these markets when I went to Hong Kong to research the live fish trade. According to conventional thinking, they should have perished decades ago, when supermarkets first began to offer a clean, well-lit, one-stop shopping environment. Instead, the wet markets have survived and modernized. How?
The answer lies in the relationship between policy, culture, and the economics of urban food supply. The Hong Kong government originally built wet markets wherever pedestrian food shopping made most sense, such as near transit centers and public housing estates. For many years, it rented market stalls at subsidized rates, both to discourage illegal street vending and to ensure a competitive, affordable choice at each market. Most markets are now privately managed, and many have been renovated.
The government’s involvement in turn reflects a cultural value. As I toured the wet markets with my 20-something translator and her 73-year-old grandmother, the older woman explained: it’s the freshness that supermarkets couldn’t beat. Hong Kong’s Cantonese cuisine (much lighter than what you’ll find in most American Chinese restaurants) depends on fresh ingredients, and local standards are high. The grandmother pointed out what “fresh” meant: live fish, not chilled; poultry still warm from slaughter; vegetables not wrapped in plastic.
Marketing studies back up this explanation. They also note that wet-market standards of freshness will likely survive the recent privatization, even if some of the markets do not. This is because Hong Kong’s biggest supermarket chains have lured customers by offering the old alongside the new: mini wet markets — complete with independent vendors and tanks full of live fish — inside their own stores."

Susanne Freidberg
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/food-deserts-a-guest-post/

Post by Tally Gunstone

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