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Food bazaars: Do they still work?

For your food business to work you must understand the demographic of your concept - whether value-for-money, artisinal or gourmet - would attract.
By Johanna D. Poblete |

Given food courts and food zones in shopping malls, why do entrepreneurs still set up shop at bazaars and the now popular night markets? Night markets click with the so-called "entertainment seeker," says Jojo Ajerom CEO of XSite.

For instance, night market/ food bazaar "Mercato Centrale is really for the entertainment seeker, looking to indulge in all kinds of street food, gourmet food, cuisine from other countries, etc.," he says.  "Bazaars are temporary pop-up stires, useful for generating visibility and testing the market- if bazaar goers like your product, you might think about setting up a permanent store. A lot of now established brands started in bazarrs." 

RJ Ledesma, co-organizer of Mercato Centrale and Midnight Mercato at Taguig's Bonifacio Global City, as well as the food-truck cluster of Cucina Andare at Makati's Glorietta 3 Park Park, says that food bazaars are great places for starting food entrepeneurs to showcase their products in a "geographically  friendly" site :where the overhead is low while the products is being tested." 

If you are thinking of trying your luck at this location type, Ledesma gives the following tips:

Know your positioning. Understand the demographic your concept would attract. If you are targeting the C market, your food should be filling and affordable (preferably around P50 a serving). If it's for the A market, you can charge higher because this market is not price-sensitive.

Ledesma says that Mercatio has "a strong B market" of mostly students and young professionals. A full meal sold by Mercato locators costs P300 to P500. "We serve both those who want value for their money, and those who want gourmet food, " he says. 

"The weekend market in Salcedo and Legaspi villages in Makati City cater to the higher-end market, so the price points are higher. On the other hand, Banchetto in Mandaluyong City targets the call-center crowd and college students."

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Your food should have a story. You're  not just selling your food but also its story, insists Ledesma. "Our vendors usually have homemade recipes that have been in the family and been tested by generations, or they've been tested with friends, " he says. "People are not just buying the food"

Learn to market your product.  It's not just about the right products, it's also about product marketing- how creative are your merchandising collaterals and the aesthetics of the booth? The food bazaar "is different from the food court, " says Ledesma. The booth or kiosk "should be visually, aesthetically pleasing. It should attract the sense of smell. It should be multi-sensory. There should also be product sampling, I strongly believe in that."

Work till the market responds, and get feedback. Mercato has rejected locators the first time around because their offering wasn't tasty or of good quality, notes Ledesma, but many reapply and manage to get in. "Sometimes the product is not yet ripe for commercial sale. Sometimes the market itself needs to adjust the product, " he says. "It really depends on the vendor's ability and capacity to adjust if at first the product does not sell."

Take it to the next level. Vendors who succeed at the bazaar can move on to a higher-level. How fast a bazaar business succeeds really depends on the entrepreneur's ambition, says Ledesma. Sometimes a business just starts out as "a fun thing to do and then becomes a money-earner, " he says.

"If they continue to participate in Mercato, it means they're doing good, and eventually they move on to permanent venues."

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