This is the third in a series of columns that report on the 30th annual The Lempert Report Trend Forecast; its focus is on the most important issues the retail and food industries face. Today, it’s all about how our cities will change and the effect on how consumers will relate to and shop for their foods.
“Local” has become one of the most important labels in our supermarkets. It represents freshness and suggests images of small producers and farmers who produce our foods right in our community. Some people define local foods as those grown within a state, region, or a specific number of miles from where they are sold. For others it is more focused on their neighbor’s farm that is within walking distance. The reality is that according to the USDA definition, local food is the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area. Whatever your definition may be, there is no doubt that local is a powerful marketing message.
There is a case to be made for living local as well. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw millions of people flee our cities and rethink the way they wanted to live out the best of their lives. To find a place to live and work; a place where they were comfortable. They sought a neighborhood’s vibe where they felt safe and had all the comforts and features to live their lives. Some chose to head as far away from the city as they could, which for many grocery retailers who built high service stores in downtown areas proved a disaster. That appears now to be a stop-gap solution.
The tide has turned, and now people are coming back to what Carlos Moreno, a Paris based urbanist who won the 2021 Obel Award for his work on an urban strategy, has dubbed the 15-minute city. This is the urban planning concept that is based on everything one needs should be within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. In 2010, he was quoted as saying, “The rhythm of the city should follow humans, not cars.” Neighborhoods that we can live, work, and thrive in without having to commute elsewhere. In his penned article introducing the concept, he points to the socio-economic impacts on cities during COVID and how they led to increasing inequalities and the record number of unemployment around the world. He points to the need to build more human urban fabrics that are safer, more resilient, more sustainable and inclusive and follows the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 11.
Food brings people together.
Victoria Pope, former editor-in-chief of Smithsonian Journeys Quarterly and editor at National Geographic (and in my opinion one of the most insightful and best writers about our culture) once wrote that ,“Food is more than survival. With it we make friends, court lovers, and count our blessings.” Communities, businesses, and culture have been built around meals. We meet over a cup of coffee in the morning or a cocktail at the end of the day to bond with others. The 15-minute city’s success will be built around grocers, bakers and restaurants that are locally owned and can relate to its citizens around the foods and environments they offer.
People are moving back into cities; and places like Portland-Oregon, Detroit, Melbourne, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Singapore, and Shanghai are responding and following the plan of our world’s most walkable city – Paris. Urban planners like Moreno, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser and Toronto based Jay Pitter concur that 15-minute cities are healthier for residents and the environment, create cohesive mini-communities, aid local businesses and obviously encourage people to physically move more.
Food forests are another trend here in the US. In Boston
there are currently nine, and a total of 30 are planned. Seattle, New York City and Atlanta have food forests; and in total there are now 85 community food forests in the nation. Think of these as ‘edible parks’ with large and small trees, vines, shrubs and plants that produce fruits such as apples and blueberries, and vegetables, herbs, nuts and other produce; and bring people together.
Environmentally, these food forests shade and cool the ground, protect soil from erosion and create a living habitat for nature: insects, animals, birds and of course bees. They are the ultimate example of biodiversity. For us humans, they provide a community center for well-being, promote civic engagement, and serve as an education and reinforcement of where our foods come from. Some, as in the Boston Food Forest Coalition, are in areas of urban plight and food deserts. Neighborhood volunteers decide what foods should be grown, and share the crops with food banks, nonprofits, and faith-based meal programs as well as with the volunteers and neighbors. Food forests bring people together in a positive environment. It is a grassroots response to the understanding of food, climate impact and social and racial inequities. In March, Wall Street Journal and National Opinion Research Center, a nonpartisan research group at the University of Chicago, reported https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/WSJ_NORC_ToplineMarc_2023.pdf that patriotism, religion, having children and community involvement are rapidly becoming less important to Americans. Only 38% of respondents said patriotism was important – down from 70 percent in 1998. Only 39 percent consider religion very important – down from 62 percent in 1998.
The 15-minute city and food forests that are built around our intersection of people and food is what Burt Bacharach said so eloquently – it’s what the world needs now.
Tomorrow, the 2023 Trend Forecast continues with a discussion about Retail Technologies in Grocery.