Food Halls – the New ‘Norm’?

The first email opened at 6.02 this morning had the following headline:

Time Out in ‘advanced talks to open food markets in London and Porto’: Time Out Market, which is owned by Time Out Group and brings together a city’s best restaurants, food shops, and culture under one roof, is in advanced talk to open sites in London and Porto.

Destination – noun – ‘denoting a place that people will make a special trip to visit’.

Food Halls, the very model of ‘eat or buy’ have been at the forefront of gastronomy development over recent years, gathering more column inches than any other foodservice concept.

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With a rich history and tradition in the Scandics, the Food Hall concept is now building momentum across Europe. Perhaps the vanguard of Swedish Food Halls, the Östermalms Markthalle in Stockholm, born in 1888, itself is undergoing a multi-million Euro redevelopment to return the building to its original star shaped footprint. Whilst undergoing the redevelopment, the Food Hall Tenants have been decanted to a purpose built, temporary home, until the ‘original’ building re-opens in 2018. A fitting nod to this Stockholm institution.

Institution – noun – synonyms – practice, custom, phenomenon, fact, procedure, convention, usage, tradition, rite, ritual, fashion, use, habit.

These synonyms perfectly describe the essence of the Food Hall concept as they slowly become more interwoven in our cultural and gastronomic fabric. Like all concepts, the Food Hall will go through a life cycle and it is very much at the ‘development and launch’ phase in the majority of countries across mainland Europe.
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There are exceptions to this, of course, with Eataly firmly established in its home market and taking its first steps into Turkey and Germany. Turning to Spain and the revered Mercado de San Miguel Food Hall is very much established on the tourist trail, alongside a visit to the Mercado de la Boqueria, La Sagrada Familia and Camp Nou! Add to this the latest arrival in the form of Platea, a former Cinema now converted to a gastronomic paradise, and a further tourist ‘must do’ further adds to this burgeoning supply.

And that’s the beauty of Food Halls. For those lucky enough to have such concepts on their ‘doorsteps’, they are very much the ‘norm’ – a weekly catch up with friends, family, lovers or work colleagues. Using the synonyms, they are the ‘custom, procedure, tradition’. But there’s the flipside – Food Halls are a huge tourist magnet – something users can’t get in the home city – something new, quirky, destinational – ‘a place that people will make a special trip to visit’. Indeed, 40% of all guests to Eataly in New York are guests to the City, a figure that has catapulted the store to the 4th most visited tourist attraction in the City.

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And it doesn’t end there. I was fortunate enough to have the gregarious Umberto Montano, the inspirational entrepreneur behind Il Mercato Centrale, Firenze, on a recent ICSC panel session in Milan held earlier this year. In between his passionate words about ingredients, quality and ambience, he told me that in the first 8 months of operation, the Mercato had welcomed over 1.6 million guests and, based on that trajectory, would become the top free tourist attraction in Florence!

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Which brings me to the relevance of the email headline. Time Out’s first foray into the Food Hall scene, Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon, now receives in excess of 2 million visitors each year, making it the number 1 tourist attraction in the City. Not bad for an operation that only opened in 2014. The pulling power of great food in great environments with a vibrant and energetic environment is unequivocally strong. Add in a strong tourist market, invest in awareness marketing and find the right building and Tenants and you’re halfway to making a decent fist of creating a gastronomic destination.

So how do you create these ‘pulling power’ tactics? Let’s see – strong tourist markets – tick – Time Out has over 100 sites for some of the strongest short and long haul City destinations around the globe. Awareness marketing – tick – a monthly audience of 40 million readers across content distribution platforms including mobile, website, magazine and events. The right buildings – tick – Time Out’s extensive network of City experts gives a real competitive advantage on districts, locations and buildings (both new and old). And Tenants – tick – the Tenant line up at Mercado da Ribeira was formed from the best reviews of restaurants, cafes, bars, market traders and producers in Lisbon – a ready-made target list of quality operators where Time Out has a City presence. What an ingenious business plan – almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Time Out’s website sums up these factors Born from decades of local knowledge, independent reviews and expert opinions and put together by Time Out journalists and critics all over the world, Time Out Market is an original concept that creates food and cultural experiences based on editorial curation’.

Time Out Market will be a serious player across Europe (and beyond) in the Food Hall scene and will be at the forefront of creating the ‘norm’ for some and destinations for others.

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