Why Amazon Fresh is not the future of food shopping

By Kitty Knowles 17 August 2015
Fruit stall. Pic: iStock

Ex-human rights lawyer and founder Marisa Leaf explains why the authenticity of local produce will win out over mass-produced groceries.

It’s less than a month until Amazon launches its new grocery arm in the UK, Amazon Fresh.

Despite the damning press it’s received of late, Amazon is known for its efficiency and innovation. Its latest venture however, is not the future of food shopping says ex-human rights lawyer Marisa Leaf.

According to Leaf, who founded grocery service in 2008, the high street may change, and we may eventually all shop online, but it is the authenticity of local shops not mass-production that will win over the nations purses.

The Memo spoke to Leaf this morning to find out why.

Will Amazon Fresh fail?

Marisa Leaf: I think that they’ve pitched themselves as competition, and they are launching in Hackney which is our stomping ground (we launched in Islington first and then in Hackney).

Obviously Amazon is a really impressive logistics business and I’d be a fool to dismiss them, but there are some areas that are sufficiently complex that specialists win in, and food is without doubt one of them.

All of our systems have been designed from the get-go to deliver fresh food, because food is really quite hard to deliver.

If you think about delivering bananas, for example, they are a really awkward shape and they bruise easily and they are sensitive to temperature: if you need to pack them alongside a watermelon and a raw chicken, you really need to think about that.

You need to have your vans designed in such a way that they can handle it, in a way that a generalist like Amazon just wouldn’t.

Also, by delivering from independent shops, we’ve got our inventory housed locally, meaning that our business-model is very different to an Ocado-style or Amazon-style warehouse model.

As soon as you’ve got a warehouse model, you extend the supplier chains and all of the food has to have a longer shelf life: they just can’t stock alot of what we sell because the fish is too perishable or for the bread they’d need a whole load of preservatives put it.

You’re just never going to be able to deliver the same quality of fresh bread that we deliver from all the bakers that we work with, like E5 Bakehouse for example.

So why do people shop with

ML: Before Hubbub, when it came to buying groceries you’d have to choose between convenience, which the supermarkets typically did really well, and buying really good food from small shops which were very rarely open by the time you get back from work.

Whichever way you went there was a compromise.

At Hubbub, we give everybody access to buy their food from independent producers and market stalls, but in a way that fits in with their busy lives.

There’s no compromise on convenience or on quality and on value. You can get the very best food in one-day, easy delivery from ninety-five different independent shops across London. No one else does that.

What makes you think that local produce will be the way forward in the future?

There are number of themes that we tap into: a trend for local produce; for food with provenance; food that’s served by people you can trust, and has got integrity.

That goes right the way back to the horsemeat scandal a couple of years ago. Since then people have become increasingly aware that the supermarkets’ big industrial approach to food isn’t really what it seems, and that it creates a false illusion of quality, choice and value.

The resulting trend is seen in the surge in farmers markets its across the UK, and a resurgence of independent shops, particularly around butchers and bakers.

Is just for the urban elite?

There are a number of things that make it suitable for anybody.

Local shops are best placed to know what local residents in their area want. So wherever Hubbub goes, we’ve got a ready-made product range that reflects what local people need: what we sell in Notting Hill looks quite different what we might sell in Dulwich, Peckham, Brixton or Hackney.

There are also differing price points, because sometimes if you’re making crudités you want perfect pristine vegetables, but if you just want vegetables for stock you’re probably quite happy to buy something that maybe doesn’t look quite as beautiful.

The cheapest fruit and vegetables come from market. All our prices are the same as you pay on the stall or in the shop so there are no mark ups at all.

Could Amazon not follow suit and specialise?

Maybe, but that doesn’t look like their model in all other areas, especially with the warehouse point that I’m making.

They are much more about the mass produced homogenisation; everything needs to look the same and be packaged up to the eyeballs and filled with all sorts of gasses in order to last. I suspect that’s what Amazon will do and I think they may do it really well, Ocado already do that well, but it’s different.

I don’t see them really being in competition when it comes to fresh food, no.