COVID-19 has posed the biggest challenge to the UK hospitality and retail industries since WW2 – however, one food business is emerging in “good shape” with plans for a £35m expansion in London, Europe and the US.
Community food market Mercato Metropolitano, which ratcheted up sales of almost £10M last year despite its two sites being closed for four months with limited opening for a further six months due to the pandemic, puts its success down to its unique business model.
Managing director Amedeo Claris says the secret lies in creating a business that is truly inclusive, sustainable in every aspect, and firmly rooted in the communities it serves. He is keen to share the company’s ethos to try to help the many hospitality and retail businesses that are struggling at this difficult time.
By 2025, Claris and founder Andrea Rasca are set to deliver 10 more food markets around the world focused on some of the biggest cities, with three more London sites, plus ones in Atlanta, Boston, Miami and New York in the US, and Berlin, Lisbon and Milan in Europe, creating around 2,000 jobs. Longer-term, further markets are planned for secondary cities in the UK and globally.
The aim of Mercato Metropolitano (MM) is to expand its “movement” of artisan and conscientious entrepreneurs that guarantees everyone access to nutritious, non-industrial and affordable food whilst promoting unsophisticated and sustainable produce with full traceability.
In 2019, four million people went through the doors at its highly successful markets in Elephant & Castle and Mayfair, which launched in 2016 and 2019 respectively, and have incubated over 100 food and drink start-ups to date. A pop-up food market in Milan came first in 2015 as proof of concept.
MM brings together simply-prepared, locally-sourced, culturally-inclusive, unadulterated food and serves it using organic, recyclable and compostable materials, with a focus on quality products, small-scale artisan food operators and the immediate communities where the markets are based. Large-scale, chemical-laden ingredients and industrially-processed food and drinks are banned in MM markets.
“Mercato Metropolitano is leading a global movement driving sustainable food development to tackle some of the world’s biggest societal issues, from food security to climate change,” said Claris. “Our sustainable community markets invite people to eat, buy, share, and learn about food. Mercato Metropolitano is an urban destination and community space bringing together community events, music, workshops, cookery classes, innovative farming practices, circular economy models, and dishes from around the world. We provide support to entrepreneurs and incubate start-ups to break down barriers and build a thriving economy. Likewise, we secure properties for our markets from landlords who truly understand the importance of business sustainability and accept to work with us in the same way as we work with our trading partners. Ultimately, we are developing a sustainable business model that aims to shorten the food supply chain, make quality food more affordable, and promote the importance of communal eating as a catalyst for social cohesion.”
Claris said that this approach had paid dividends so far and he believes it is the way forward for a more equitable and democratic business world.
“I would like to tell the business world why I believe our model is key to the survival and prosperity of the entire sector and why it should be considered by business leaders, and hopefully expanded on,” he said.
The MM market format is designed and curated to include a business mix that allows all trading partners to recoup their initial capital investment in a relatively short period of time and remain financially sustainable. Rather than charging rent, MM shares in the top-line sales of all trading partners. For trading partners that are low-margin but desirable businesses for the community, MM expects a lower revenue share. MM provides trading stands ready to operate with utilities and extraction in place. The trading partner brings its own ‘tools of the trade’ and movable appliances. They pay a small entry fee as a contribution to the capital cost of setting out a market site. MM bears all costs of cleaning, securing and managing common areas, in order that the trading partner is only responsible for its own staff, ingredients and business overheads. Financial and administrative sustainability is as important as food and environmental sustainability, with MM helping all trading partners to improve their revenue generation and cashflow predictability, which ultimately yields strong results for MM and all its key stakeholders.
The next MM sites open in Canary Wharf, East London, and Elephant Park, South London in summer 2021, followed by Ilford, East London, in autumn 2021.