OK, so this post is a little uneasy for me to write because it’s challenging everything I love about the modern food industry but I fear that the artisan bubble might have burst!
This fear was first aroused after a disappointing visit a couple of weeks ago to, what was, my favourite food festival in the calendar. I bounced along through the sea of marquees with Mrs Munkee full of enthusiasm, gusto and a tingling palate ready for some fine food foraging. To my dismay all I was met with was wallpaper: gin, cheese, gin, uncovered cakes, gin, brownies, pickles, gin, pickles, pickles, gin, cakes, cider, jam, big corporate stand, big corporate stand, jewellery (?), massage tent (?), gin, tea, yoga (?) and a few more gin tents. Now you might be looking at that list and be thinking: ‘well, that sounds like a belting day out…what’s this chap’s game?!’ and I could forgive you for thinking that but where have you been for the last five years?! It’s all good stuff but give me something new! Food festivals used to be about discovering the next trend and challenging your taste buds and perceptions, now I struggle to tell them apart from what’s on the shelves of mainstream retailers. Does that mean that mainstream retailers have upped their game or does it mean that startisans have run out of road?
Farm shops, delis and food halls have also lost their way in my opinion. They used to represent the little guy (or gal) making a go on their own and real show of local produce and talent. Now they might as well wear badges saying ‘Every Little Helps’.
I’ve written in the past about the unique market conditions that have afforded small businesses the opportunity to thrive in the food industry but is this a sign that the opportunity is waning? Have the initial visionaries graduated from standing in fields and facing the elements of British summer time in wellies and checked shirts to seated behind large oak desks in sought after London-locations adorned by Savile Row? Don’t allow me to mislead you, it’s fantastic that small businesses have earned their stripes in the farmer’s markets and progressed and built businesses that can compete in the tough Top 4 Retail environments but why has the pipeline dried up?
Could it be that this once empty space has been occupied and strangled by big multi-national corporations aware of the need to act on trends? Big manufacturers are now either investing into capex and developing their own ‘artisan’ ranges or buying up emerging businesses and welcoming them into the fold. This shift has sprouted a post-modern foodie who scoffs at the words ‘artisan’ or ‘artisanal’. Even the word has lost its way and become pastiche.
This post has been difficult to write because I type it with exasperation. I have gone through a real pyschomachia (thanks to my A-Level English teacher for increasing my verbosity with that word!) writing this and that’s because I feel like I’m in mourning. It’s less of a light bulb moment and more of a dimmer switch being gently turned down from light to dark.
But surely this can’t be it? Who can the revolution look to for their new champion? We‘ve done all the innovating now and it’s out of our system and we should just be happy with bacon jam and popcorn. No. I’m not having it. If you’re a small business reading this hear my plea: don’t stop the revolution just because some of the leaders have left; keep challenging and exploring!
Any thoughts on my wee rant? Pop them below whether you love or hate it because sharing is caring.