The Changing Landscape of Food & Drink
A trip down memory lane with our MD, Stefano Cuomo, as the food hall turns 40…
In the beginning – The 70s
A favourite anecdote regarding Macknade’s retail evolution is how locals would arrive at my father’s little market garden on the Ashford Road, full of pity for this funny foreigner trying to grow, amongst other things, humble garden peas.
They were curious to know what he’d done to cultivate them so poorly, but what they didn’t know was that they were patiently being introduced to the wonders of ‘mangetout’, which 40 years on are as ubiquitous as the garden pea!
I still remember the days of Pick Your Own…one for the basket, two for me….rolling around sun drenched fields with bellyfuls of strawberries and loganberries. Back then, the summers seemed warm, and to think in those days we whistled at top twenty temperatures!!!
We were farm kids, forced by our mother to eat fresh home-baked bread, when all we wanted in the eighties was sliced white. We would visit friends and get treated to a tea of wagon wheels and clubs, having to settle for cherries plucked fresh from trees when we got home.
But there was the odd commercial treat…ice cream being a great example. We would wander to the back end of Faversham, to a shabby little supermarket called Tesco, to buy the blue label tubs of vanilla. Of course, the main weekly shop was done at Liptons and then Safeway, but this ‘Tesco’ had the large tubs of cheap, soft scoop. Somethings just don’t change!
As the eighties turned into the nineties, our little shop on the Ashford Road moved to our main site on Selling Road (where we are today) and we started to add other ‘manufactured’ products to our range…honey, locally made jams and the odd Kentish cheese.
At home, my mother had progressed to making her own croissants, and of course, no Sunday was the same without a tray full of Barkaways’ chipolatas (our house preferred West Street but my granny always went to Ospringe!!) and a full English Breakfast.
Now and again we would enjoy a trip to the pub (Martini Rosso for my mother, questionable Spanish wine for my father), as well as our yearly restaurant trip to the Chinese in Canterbury when we were Christmas shopping. I say this knowing that my children think it strange if they have not had at least three square meals outside of the house in a given week…
Wine was also hard to come by and pâté, croissants and all things continental were nigh on impossible to find, so my grandfather would organise an annual bus trip to Calais. The full extended family would get the ferry across, enjoy a lovely bistro lunch, fill up on wine, beer and other hard to find French finery before heading home…
At Macknade we were finding that more and more people were asking about local produce, noting the difference in flavour & freshness and enjoying the interaction with the Macknade team. Knowing my father was Italian, they would ask for some of the esoteric ‘stuff’ they had seen in London or tried on a rare holiday abroad…so the range we stocked grew and with it the team.
By now we had stopped farming (supermarkets had put pay to that) and were focussing on our food hall. As the supermarkets grew, it seemed those days of pick your own & home baking were being left behind, but quietly, more and more people were finding us and of course, we weren’t alone – producers, importers, specialist retailers, curers and other fantastic farm shops were forging ahead.
As the ‘big boys’ seemed intent on wrapping everything in more and more packaging, adding shelf life and diminishing flavour, we realised that we couldn’t compete and that our strength was in being different…doing what we always did by connecting people with real food & drink.
The Noughties & Today
The turn of the century and subsequent decades have seen the internet open a whole new channel to consumers. Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon and it has offered our sector a real opportunity.
But, what fascinates me is seeing the big online brands move into physical spaces when only yesterday they were shouting about the real world of bricks & mortar retail being dead. GRAZE have entered Boots, Amazon have bought a premium supermarket chain (which interestingly enough was started by a bunch of hippies in California around the time my father was sowing his mangetout seeds just off the Ashford Road!) and things are changing again.
Who really knows what the future will bring, but I’m excited to find our place in it, never losing the focus of bringing people together over a shared love of real food & drink.