Borough Market; Wonderful or a Waste of Money?

Borough Market in London is a great place to browse around. Situated next to Southwark Cathedral, just down the road from London Bridge, it is the successor to a market that originally adjoined the end of London Bridge. It was first mentioned in 1276, although the market itself claims to have existed since 1014 or even earlier.

For much of the last century, it was essentially a wholesale market, along the same lines as the old Covent Garden, selling fresh produce in quantity to greengrocers or catering establishments. But now, it is all about specialty foods, both to take-away as well as via a whole range of cafes, restaurants and fast food stall providing more instant gratification.

So, is it a home to all that is best in English fresh produce, home cooked delicacies, creative food, organic produce and meat? Or alternatively, is it the biggest foodie rip-off in town, a trap for gullible tourists, conned into paying way over the odds for products that frankly they could buy for half the price and similar quality elsewhere?

Well, probably a bit of both, to be honest. I had an hour to spare last week between meetings and had a wander round, and we certainly don’t want to tar every stall in the market with the same brush. Some really are first class.

I love the Spice Mountain shop, which has a huge range of really interesting spices, salts, pulses and other exotic cooking ingredients that you just won’t see in many other places. Certainly for the more commoditized products, they are priced at a level that is not out of line with what you might pay for basic herbs and spices in a supermarket. And their more exotic products are hard to benchmark, but don’t strike me as unfairly priced given their often very niche provenance!

There are stalls selling interesting cheeses, sausages and so on that again are hard to come by elsewhere. But on the dark side, when you see pretty tired looking Broccoli at £3.50 a kilo, two and a half times what you pay in Waitrose, and looking less fresh, then alarm bells sound.

A white tin loaf of bread at £3.50? A single almond croissant at £3? I’m sure they are all beautifully home baked, but really, is that reasonable?  I saw a poor young tourist choosing a few pieces of almond brittle on one "self service" stall, and handing it over to the guy, who weighed it and said “that’s £14.40”.  She looked a bit startled but you’re at the point of no return then, so she handed over her credit card. £6 per 100g, that was, over twice the price of similar products on-line.  I know almonds aren’t cheap, but really.

It all goes to show again how hard it is to assess “value”. Those tourists are arguably also paying for the Borough Market “experience”, although it is all a bit fake for me these days. But if you are going there, to look or to buy, don’t leave your critical procurement faculties behind, that’s all I would say.

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First Voice

  1. Craig @ Market Dojo:

    Big fan of Borough Market, but your completely right. It’s all about the value.

    As a consumer in the modern age, we’re now paying for the experience. Whether that’s purchasing food at Waitrose (Similar products to other retailers but higher prices) or buying a beer at a football stadium (paying £6 for a beer because you can’t buy from anyone else).

    Here’s the real question though, is it a bad thing? Surely, getting a “better” experience at a higher cost is the evolution of a product cycle and by just interpreting its value by cost is poor procurement?

    Therefore does that mean if you buy your weekly shop at Morrisons you’re a bad procurement professional? Joking aside, where do we draw the line at which it’s acceptable to be prodominately paying for the experience?

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