Foodies drive gourmet market boom in S. Africa

Updated: 2012-02-29 08:09

By Justine Gerardy (China Daily)

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa - The crush of people inches past the tables of slow-brewed coffee, truffle flavoured charcuterie, and homemade ice-cream rippled with fennel pollen and peach swirls.

The former Cape Town biscuit factory, reworked into a shabby-chic urban setting, is just one of the gourmet markets that have popped up in South Africa for foodies seeking handcrafted goods over mass-produced products.

Foodies drive gourmet market boom in S. Africa

A woman (not pictured) carries a pizza above the crowds at the Neighbourgoods Market in Cape Town, where people buy, sell, and eat interesting, healthy, handmade food. [Rodger Bosch / AFP]

"There's been an explosion of markets taking place, not only in Cape Town but around the country people are jumping into the idea," said Cameron Munro of the buzzing Neighborgoods Market which opened six years ago.

The decidedly hip market draws up to 5,000 people every Saturday and expanded last year to Johannesburg with similar weekend fetes across Africa's biggest economy offering an alternative to the supermarket shelves.

"We were totally blown away by the response that Cape Town gave us," said Munro whose market has sparked a knock-on of galleries, delis and vintage shops in its gritty location.

"This was a nice opportunity to educate people about supporting local producers and also the beauty of interacting directly with the producer."

South Africa's passion for fast food and shopping malls still dwarves the trend toward Finnish-rye bread or slow-fermented beer with orange peel and coriander, despite a push by big retailers toward organic foods.

But it's become an important trend within South Africa's $34.8 billion food and drinks-making industry. Local analysis company Flux Trends named the artisanal eater as one of its top 10 trends for 2012.People want things that are simpler, slower, purer and have a bit of personality in a plugged-in digital world, said Johannesburg-based trend forecaster Dion Chang, adding that shoppers are becoming more ethical about what they eat.

"You're just getting more and more mall-averse people who don't want that mass produced stuff, who don't want the generic global retail brand kind of experience, who want something that's independent," he said.

But while the artisanal push reflects a desire to bounce out of the cyber world, social media plays a key role in what Flux Trends says is "a sense of global nostalgia for idyllic rural life".

"It's not one or the other because word about these artisanal markets, or organic markets or food markets, rely on social media so your online and offline is going to live very happily together," said Chang.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs and websites are used for flavor updates, give-aways, date reminders and to post photos and videos.

"Our social media have been amazing," Madelen Johansson who opened up the City Bowl Market 10 months ago and has a waiting list of over 150 traders.

"On a Friday on Twitter and Facebook, they are tweeting at each other 'can you put away two packs of bacon for me'," she told AFP.

In one of the world's most economically unequal societies, the markets draw more well-off shoppers with offerings of oysters to French crepes.

"You can walk around and pick out what you want. There's just so much variety and a lot of what's available here is not necessarily available in the mall," said Lerato Kotelo, 23, a regular at the Neighbourgoods Market.

Agence France-Presse