Once upon a time, you could find the freshest fruits and vegetables, meat, and fish in Israel's outdoor markets fresh from the field, orchard, and chicken coop, instead of from the freezer. There was also a variety of especially cheap home products and clothes. In contrast to supermarkets and even stores on the street, open-air markets were always seen as a place with a different and more informal, diverse, and authentic atmosphere.
Recent years, however, have seen a change. Together with renewal and prosperity in the open-air markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which draw both regular clientele and tourists, smaller open-air markets outside of Israel's biggest cities are disappearing.
Geocartography Knowledge conducted a sample survey of 500 households representing the entire population in Israel for "Globes" in order to learn about changes in the demography of consumers in comparison with a similar survey conducted two years ago, and whether insights can be gained about the changes in retail behavior, particularly in food.
The survey found that 30% of the those sampled visited the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem during 2019, followed by two prominent markets in Tel Aviv, the Carmel market and Sarona Market, with 20% each and the Tel Aviv's port market and Jaffa's flea market with 15% each. Next were the markets in Ramle and Akko with 7% each.
The survey revealed that Mahane Yehuda, Sarona, the flea market, and the Tel Aviv port market were attracting young people, but those frequenting other markets were mostly over 35. Only 40% of the respondents said that they bought fruits and vegetables, compared with 46% in a similar survey two years ago. On the other hand, the proportion of people visiting markets for entertainment and eating out increased to 33%.
Sharon Band from Bamida, which engages in urban planning and strategic planning for business and marketing, says, "It used to be clear that open-air markets offered the freshest and cheapest fruits and vegetables because of their proximity to production locations or traders, and enjoyed economies of scale and competition. This is no longer the case. The competitive power of the retail chains has greatly increased. Rami Levy directly buys the produce grown in entire fields from the farmers, and therefore has very strong bargaining power. When it sells tomatoes for NIS 0.99 per kilo, no merchant, no matter how big, can complete with it. The situation with quality has also changed. There are now premium stores offering excellent quality merchandise.
"On the other hand, people today are looking for a shopping experience that is not merely functional. The market experience has to provide other values. The market has to reinvent itself by transforming shopping into an experience and providing added value. The worldwide trend is to combine functional shopping for high-quality food with entertainment and eating out."
Maya Crabtree, leader of environment and sustainability at Forum 15 - The Israeli Forum of Self-Government Cities, brings up an important point - upgrading and renovation do not always benefit a market. She says, "One of the reasons why some of the markets are disappearing could be excessive upgrading or the attempt to turn them into what amounts to a shopping mall. We see that it's the more lower end markets that haven't been renovated, or that haven't been over-renovated, that are successful. The markets in Hadera and Kiryat Ata are examples of markets that were renovated and suffered as a result. In the Carmel market, for example, the municipality led a broad process of architectural renovation and change that include the appearance and feeling of a market. The merchants, on the other hand, were completely opposed to any renovation, however small, claiming that the market attracted people because of its simplicity. The municipality eventually made concessions to the merchants, who agreed that the renovation would focus on upgrading the infrastructure, such as electricity and drainage, instead of esthetics."
Crabtree lists the markets that are still attracting people, such as those in Petah Tikva and Netanya. In contrast, the market in Rishon Lezion has completely closed down. The Kfar Saba market is an excellent example of the effect of an urban renewal project on a market. The Kfar Saba Economic Development Corporation invested NIS 2.5 million in 2013 in overhauling the market, which has turned a neglected backyard into a wonderful place, but one that is a small pleasant entertainment center, not a market.
Geocartography Knowledge chairman Dr. Rina Degani believes that the future of the open-air markets depends on municipal management. She says, "The markets' future in Israel is not necessarily bleak. What is typical of the strong markets is that they are able to adapt their mix and attract people of different ages, including an appeal to young people. The weakness of the markets in Haifa and Rehovot shows that the authority failed to realize that the market is a very important commercial anchor. Today, shopping malls that want to win are reducing their amount of clothing and fashion space in favor of a mix of entertainment and eating out. Since a commercial street is not managed by a management company, intervention by the authority is needed."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 8, 2020
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