Virtual shopping stalled

16.05.46: THE BIG food trading corporations are reconsidering their decision to close the few remaining hypermarkets and switch entirely to virtual shopping on the Web.

Their reservations arise following the successful re-emergence of local produce markets, similar to those still common in England as recently as the mid-to-late 20th century.

People are setting up "stalls" - simple trestle tables on folding legs - in traditional town-centre marketplaces and selling produce directly to their neighbours.

Such has been the markets' success that small-scale producers - cheesemakers, bacon-curers, bakers - are withdrawing from their Webmart supply contracts and selling direct to the public via stalls in markets.

"At last," said Simon Parkes, a stallholder at Saffron Walden market in Essex and a retail economist, "we are developing a local supply system that makes complete economic sense.

"What could be more ludicrous than the old Web-driven system of sending stuff from one end of the country to the other? Putting local producers directly in touch with local consumers ensures fresher food, less waste and less environmental damage."

Eric Sharples, Webmart's president, admitted: "We should embrace the new trend. The way forward is for us to buy more produce from local sources and sell to local customers."

But Parkes disagreed. "It's too late for dinosaurs like Webmart," he said. "We have proved that the age of the middleman is dead." RG

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