Innovative Retailer: Mercato Metropolitano

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The Name: Mercato Metropolitano

The Place: Despite sounding Italian and being founded by an Italian in Italy and generally smelling Italian all over there is surprisingly not an outlet of the sustainable artisan market concept anywhere in Italy at all.

The Story: Less surprising maybe is the success which the urban markets have had in that foodhall-loving city London meaning that it’s nearly up to three units already (more of that later).

What’s the general schtick here? Well, back in 2016 there was an Expo in Milan. And Andrea Rasca, founder, seized the opportunity to breathe life into a disused railway station and serve delicious food in it.

Locals loved it? They did – it had two million visitors over that four months and they all spent lots of money.

So what happened to this incredible success story? Umm, it closed.

Oh: But the good news for London is that Rasca – along with MD Amedeo Claris – promptly resurrected the idea here.

The market at Elephant & Castle

In some fancy schmancy, chi-chi area called the “Food Quarter” no doubt: Actually it was Elephant & Castle.

Behave. There’s nothing at Elephant & Castle. It’s literally a big road junction: How wrong you are! You cannot move down at the Elephant for regeneration. In fact it’s regenerating so blooming quickly that Mercato Metropolitano is itself in a temporary location – a former paper factory on the Newington Causeway.

Er, is that a problem? Don’t worry. It’s also headed off to Elephant Park where it will soon be opening MMy Elephant Park. This is billed as “a unique and immersive food experience”.

What if you don’t want to be immersed in your food? Tough. But really at the moment it is an artisan grocery shop with food-to-go from the likes of Dim Sum Lab and Burghero. Rasca and Claris have sustainability at the core of everything so there is a no-plastic policy. Cups and crockery are disposable but made of biodegradable material. Essentially this is a ‘movement’, which is trying to build a supply chain that prioritises quality over price with a focus on healthy and sustainable food and a sense of community.

Lovely. Can we talk about Mmoney? Let’s talk about the FarMM first. This is the umbrella organisation which partners with all the community organisations and charities that the markets host and work with. Basically Mercato Metropolitano aims to teach urban dwellers that they can support their local and rural communities while protecting the environment by focusing on what they eat. In a nutshell.

Fine, now can we talk about Mmoney: In 2019 four million people went through the doors of the two main venues – not bad eh? And in 2020 sales are believed to be around £10 million and that is despite the markets being shut for four months. Anyway, Mercato Metropolitano doesn’t charge rent to the food providers in its halls but takes a share of sales and the more important the supplier is in terms of its inclusivity or sustainability the lower the rate MM takes. The market provides the trading stands, and pays the cleaning and security costs, but there are rules to having a spot in one of these venues.

Such as? You cannot serve heavily processed food. Non.

Crikey. Give me an idea of who is retailing in there? Who isn’t serving in there? There are around 40 independent food providers in each venue and it really is a global feast. There is Japanese Donburi, Venezuelan Arepa, German lager bar, Ceviche bar, Uzbek street food and of course the Italian gelato. And the important thing is that the market also acts as an incubator of new talent with many people starting with a small stand and then moving on to greater things either within the markets or outside them.

So it’s a street vibe. Yes, until we reach Mayfair.

Mercato Mayfair

Oho, now we get to the posh bit: A baroque decommissioned church St Marks is now a cultural hub and community market in the most expensive bit of the Monopoly board. Two levels of food stalls and bars, a rooftop terrace, a crypt with a wine cellar and micro-brewery.

Mmy, but it does look pretty. Please don’t you start with the double MMs everywhere too. Rasca does like big venues and big projects.So also on the way is Mercato Ilford.

It’s got a ring to it: This one is slightly different in that it is set to feature a rooftop farm. But hold onto your hats because a unit at Canary Wharf also beckons at a 600 sq m site at the new Wood Wharf where it will occupy two levels of a built-to-rent residence and feature the usual bakery, deli and kitchens with a jazz venue on the lower level. And then of course there is the international expansion.

Blimey. Go on then: We are talking places like Berlin, Atlanta, Boston, Miami, New York, Lisbon and goodness, even one back in Milan.

Phew, I’ve also heard about cookery lessons: Oh yes. The organisation partners with City Harvest London, Migrateful – all kinds of refugee-led cooking classes, zero-waste cooking classes. There was a summer camp in 2021 and the AcadeMMy develops tailored programs which trains local students in the areas of hospitality and F&B.

Hey, I could be an aMMbassador, geddit: Too late. They’ve got them already.

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