A group of traders recently signed a petition complaining about the proliferation of Sunday food festivals in Queen St. which compete directly with existing food traders around the market. Are these food festivals a response to global changes in food retailing, a response to customer feedback or just a cash-grab for more rent?
Our CEO, Jenny Hibbs, has responded to the petition in a letter which gives a candid overview of management thinking on this issue. One of the key statements was - "Our analysis shows that Queen Victoria Market is dramatically under represented in its ready to eat foods".
Traders will know from industry and press reports over the last 18 months or so that food is adopting a higher profile in shopping precincts. A US retail executive recently said that food and restaurants were becoming more important in the leasing mix - "When you think about ecommerce and the impact it is having on brick and mortar, you can't go online and have lunch." Last year the Sydney Morning Herald reported "The savvy retail landlords that have spotted this trend are now changing the mix of their malls to offer more food and less fashion. Furthermore, the shopping centres up for redevelopment in the coming years will all shift space away from the big box department store and allocate more space to the food courts and supermarkets."
QVM have responded by continuing to develop the top of F Shed as a dine-in food precinct along with the VicMarket Place Food Court, Elizabeth Street and Deli Lane and a further 4 ready to eat food premises (513 Elizabeth Street, 69 Victoria Street, Food Court – Queen Street kiosk and 22 F Shed) which are scheduled to open in the coming months. The trader’s petition was prompted by the additional introduction of a “Tastes of the Market Festival” that ran in Queen St. leading up to the end of the financial year.
It is all very well for management to identify new trends in ready to eat food retailing. There is no denying that consumers are eating out more. We can also argue that a thriving, competitive food sector is a good thing. However if the primary reason for introducing more food is to add to the markets rental income, this is a flawed response that neglects existing food traders. When you only measure market performance by rubbery customer counts and rental income, and virtually ignore the business health of traders, you are neglecting the core reason for this market’s existence. QVM is not a rental cash cow. It is a place of business between traders and consumers. Both have to benefit.
Management's cavalier attitude to the markets product mix is unacceptable. Introducing a last minute food festival under the guise of meeting consumer needs is short sighted. Failure to clearly explain new management thinking on the market’s food mix is inexcusable. We would expect management to sit down with traders, explain their intent, introduce analysis that supports that intent, establish guidelines for achieving their aims, and consult on a time frame that allows small business to integrate and adapt. In other words, provide a considered vision for the future. That approach is definitely missing here and, if it is an indicator of how QVM intend to consult on future issues, we have reason to be deeply worried.