Some of you may remember the old days of grocery shopping, when you had to go to multiple specialty little shops to get all your food. When you walked down the road to pick up your daily bread, went to the butcher to get your meat, and had your milk delivered. OK, so most of us are probably under 80, and may have only experienced glimpses of that. In some countries, you can still get that full experience where they’ve resisted the transition to the supermarkets.
For the majority of the US, that way of shopping has drastically changed since around the 1950s, when the ease and convenience of supermarkets was just too irresistible. You could just take your car to a single location, and browse down from aisle to aisle to pick up conveniently packaged food in plastic. On top of the convenience, you had great deals and food that lasted longer. Instead of having to buy bread every day, through the magic of chemistry, you now had bread that could last a whole week.
Convenience, mass production, and longer lasting food, came at a cost. No, not the price, that also had to remain attractive. What had to give was the quality of food. The entire process of food, from how you raised cows to the use of additives and preservatives, was changed at every level. Your bread was no longer going to be handmade by a baker who wakes up at 2 am to make the morning bread. The process was chemically accelerated, to create a bread that could last several days in a truck and then sit on a store shelf, and still have enough life for your pantry.
With our increasing awareness on how food affects our health, and a shift towards healthy food, an increasing number of people are becoming more interested in quality food, over convenient and long lasting food. There is also a growing food culture looking for fresh quality options, because that simply tastes better. Sometimes you just don’t care that your food will stay good for another 6 months, that it’s conveniently available at your local supermarket, or that there’s a 2 for 1 coupon for it. Sometimes you just want to listen to your stomach, and just have damn good food.
In large foodie cities, and now throughout the US, small specialty food businesses have been popping up. From specialty cheese-mongers, to homemade muffin shops. Many people have grown tired of some of the stale boring supermarket shelf food, and want something with real flavor and freshness. There’s also a unique variety you get from specialty shops. Stores like Whole Foods have tried to include butcher and seafood sections, imitating specialty shops. But the selection tends to be very limited, and they always have the same items. There’s no catch of the day, or rotating seasonal items. In a specialty shop, you get that variety, and once in a while, they bring something different and exotic or seasonal.
On top of the food quality, what has brought some people back to the specialty food shops is the interaction and knowledge you get from the shopkeeper. If you go to a butcher, you’ll be able to get advice on meat from someone who does nothing but work with meat. A lot of them can even give you cooking advice for every meat. The convenience you lose from having to make multiple stops, may be made up by getting some great advice and on the spot tutorials.
Before your next trip to the supermarket, see if you have any local specialty food shops. It may be worth the extra trip. You’ll also see why these type of stores are starting to make a come back.
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