Vanishing vegetable market: Internet giants don’t talk about martial arts and devour everything?

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A restaurant in a village in Guangzhou. Photo shoot: Wu Rong
Reporter Wu Rong
Editor Zhou Zhuoren
“Meituan, they killed me!”
Near noon, in Guangzhou Sports East Road vegetable market, a dish stall owner’s wife is according to the customer’s order to pack the vegetables, waiting for delivery brother to come. The “meituan they” she complained about refers to all kinds of fresh e-commerce providers such as meituan buying vegetables and the recently popular community group buyers.
Under the catalysis of the epidemic situation, the community group buying model has become very popular this year. Through the recruitment of community “leaders”, acquaintances and new people to ensure drainage, and the pre-sale mode of group buying first, then purchasing and delivery is adopted. The community group purchase platform basically does not occupy the working capital.
Like most of the fresh e-commerce companies and mobile phones that were just starting before, they used to repeatedly burn money to subsidize the flow and occupy the market in a short period of time, which also made the dishes have irresistible prices in the initial stage, such as potatoes of 999kg and eggs of 5.9yuan.
According to incomplete statistics, there are more than 200 community group buying enterprises in China. From January 2019 to November 26, 2020, a total of 26 investment and financing events occurred in the domestic community group purchase e-commerce field, with a total financing of more than 11.7 billion yuan. Among them, Alibaba, meituan, pinduoduo, byte skipping, didi and other giants have all entered the Bureau, which has the potential of “tiger and wolf around”.
Community group buying app (image source: CFP)
In addition to the first tier cities, many community group buying has begun to enter the second and third tier cities with larger market and less competition. In August this year, pinduoduo’s community group purchase project “buy more vegetables” was officially launched and took the lead in Wuhan and Nanchang. As of November 27, more vegetables have been bought in 14 provinces and cities except the first tier cities, most of which are concentrated in the sinking market. Meituan is divided into two paths. Meituan adopts the mode of front-end warehouse and instant delivery to buy vegetables. It mainly focuses on the first tier cities, which is used to benchmark Alibaba’s HEMA; while meituan preferred focuses on the second and third tier cities and adopts the mode of pre-sale + self delivery.
Compared with self-employed vegetable vendors, Internet enterprises can integrate upstream through capital. Compared with individuals, Internet enterprises have stronger bargaining power on upstream and reduce procurement costs. The subsidy impact of Internet companies, vegetable vendors as individuals will be vulnerable.
For example, in Guangzhou, although many stall owners are helpless, they are gradually accessing some online vegetable selling platforms. “If we don’t do this, the business will not go on for a long time.” Said the shopkeeper.
However, the emergence of Internet vegetable selling and the expansion of low price strategy are only the latest factors that affect the original living space of traditional vegetable vendors and traditional vegetable markets. In the past 20 years, with the emergence of chain supermarkets, urban renewal and the management of city appearance, the decline of traditional vegetable market has already begun.
Five traditional food markets disappear from Guangzhou every year
In fact, no matter in which city, vegetable vendors are difficult to compete with capital.
Vegetable market is a completely free competition market, most of the practitioners are thin individuals. Interface news noted that in Guangzhou, many vegetable vendors are foreigners, mostly from western and northern Guangdong, as well as the surrounding provinces such as Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei.
In the East TIYU Road District of Guangzhou, a vegetable vendor at a vegetable stall said that she and her husband had been selling vegetables in Guangzhou for ten years. Because they didn’t have enough money to enter the market, they initially set up ghost stalls near the vegetable market. In the last three years, they rented the stall of a dilapidated building in the community, and still could not afford to enter the vegetable market.
The couple went to luochongwei wholesale market before dawn every day. After they came back, they sorted and took care of them. They were busy until 9:00 p.m. The cost of renting a house in Guangzhou, two children studying in their hometown, and living expenses are not small expenses. In addition, they also have to bear the burden of loss such as discarding the vegetables if they can’t be sold. They also want to access meituan, but because they don’t understand the operation of the Internet, they are still in the process of observation and exploration.
But the market that Internet giant competes for is urgent. At present, these giants are still stepping up “Recruitment”. Every day, a cyclist can get about 300 yuan to buy dishes in Beijing. According to his understanding, the company has increased its investment in human resources, and is now expanding its enrollment, and needs more riders.
With the travel of online trading habits, consumers’ lifestyle of buying vegetables is also changing.
In the first tier cities, the center of the city is composed of a large number of high mobility young office workers who live alone or rent together. They go out early and return late. However, the vegetable market does not wait for them. For example, in northern markets such as Beijing, the food market usually closes at 6:00 p.m., but even at 10:00 p.m., you can still see Mei Tuan riders flying by on the roadside. There are no lights or people waiting for these young people at home, at least there are riders.
Meituan preferred, buy more vegetables, community group purchase and pick up points (photo source: CFP)
However, the emergence of Internet vegetable selling and the expansion of Wude style do not only seize the time difference and price advantage, but also affect the consumers’ right of choice. According to the AIDS media consultation report, affected by the epidemic situation, the community group buying market will develop rapidly in 2020, and the market scale is expected to reach 72 billion yuan. By 2022, the scale may reach 102 billion yuan.
In terms of time, the impact of the internet war on traditional channels will continue for a long time. When the number of patrons decreases, the vegetable market will also form a diversion effect, especially in the urban center and the community with more young people, the management pressure of the nearby vegetable market is not small.
From the data point of view, the traditional food market is indeed accelerating the disappearance. According to the Guangzhou Daily, Guangzhou meat and vegetable Market Association revealed that there are more than 620 vegetable markets in Guangzhou, and about five of them disappear each year.
But should Internet giants shoulder this “pot” alone?
The first competitor in the traditional food market is actually a supermarket chain. If Guangzhou Friendship store supermarket, the first supermarket in China in 1981, was only an experimental product, then the local Lianhua supermarket and the foreign-funded Carrefour began in the 1990s. The supermarket chain has profoundly changed the habits of many Chinese people in buying daily necessities and vegetables.

Cleaner shopping environment, more refined processing of vegetables and fresh meat, which are many people from the traditional food market into the supermarket reason. At this stage, supermarkets and traditional food markets are not so hot and hot that people will patronize both places at the same time.
However, with the development of urbanization, more and more office buildings and residential buildings are built, and there is no longer much space for the free market in the city center. Therefore, many cities are facing the problem of street re planning in recent years. In order to ensure the appearance of the city, dirty and poor vegetable market is no longer allowed to exist. The weak management level, urban transformation, land use change and other factors also led to the disappearance of some vegetable markets.
The traditional advantages of some vegetable markets are being further weakened. After the outbreak of the Xinguan epidemic, the joint prevention and control mechanism of the State Council said that it would “restrict the trade and slaughter of live poultry, encourage localities where conditions permit to promote centralized slaughtering of live poultry, and gradually abolish live poultry market trading.”
The reason why Guangdong Teachers’ milk gets up early and goes to the food market is probably to buy a “chicken flavor” fresh chicken. The chilled chicken has various problems in their mind, such as eating dry like dishcloth. However, with the government’s stricter supervision over the killing of live poultry, what is the difference between buying a chicken in a supermarket and buying a chicken in a vegetable market?
What’s more, young people don’t like going to the food market more than their predecessors.
When answering why young people don’t like to go to the vegetable market to buy vegetables, the last respondent of Zhihu wrote: “the vegetable market is like a magic mirror of your life. You can be handy in your work, life and study, and envy others, but once you arrive at the market, you will find that even the most basic survival skills are blank.”
We may not be able to see which piece of meat or which fish is better, and we do not know which part of the wax gourd is sweeter. My mother’s bargaining skills in the vegetable market may not have learned at all.
Young people living in cities become less likely to go to the vegetable market. (source: CFP)
The disappearance of vegetable peddlers is also the disappearance of human smoke and fire
In this way, the renewal of the city and the reform of the economic model jointly change the way we get fresh food, and the function of the vegetable market as a public space in the city has also changed.
The vegetable market used to be a place where only local people could have a good taste. How to communicate with vegetable vendors from raw to cooked, how to buy vegetables without making mistakes, and how to be familiar with them for a long time are all based on the special attribute of “acquaintance society”. As a result, such a free market with high transaction rate is more like a social place, and it also places the expectation of every region for food culture.
Today, it is no longer possible to look at the public area of the vegetable market from a single point of view, nor is it so simple to meet the purchase demand. Wang Zengqi wrote in the old search of the esophagus: “when I come to a new place, some people like to go shopping in department stores and some in bookstores. I’d rather go shopping in the vegetable market. Look at the raw chicken, live duck, fresh fish, water vegetables, green cucumber, red pepper, hot, crowded, people feel a kind of life fun
Shopping in the market, chatting with neighbors, even chatting and bargaining with familiar vendors are the unique human feelings and fireworks of vegetable farms and stalls. You will find that sometimes the trajectory of Chinese action is actually very interesting. They are often anti economics rather than efficiency driven. They can enjoy and relax in the physical space. This part of demand is hard to be affected by the Internet economy.
Guangzhou Shayuan vegetable market (source: CFP)
Guangzhou Xichang vegetable market (photo: Wu Rong)
Walking on the streets of Guangzhou, the traditional food market is still lively. In the villages in the city, all kinds of unknown and not chain stores are full of fireworks, even if they only survive in the shabby shops.
For example, in large vegetable markets such as Xilong and Shayuan, people are usually crowded at 7:00 in the morning. Most of the visitors are teachers’ uncles and parents-in-law who slowly buy vegetables with wheelbarrows and environmental bags. Unlike the “chilled pig” ordered by mobile phone, the pork and other meat here are usually slaughtered in the middle of the night and listed early in the morning. The seafood in the pool is also lively. After selecting the vigorous seafood, “Yuman” will lift his knife and cut the scales to remove the intestines, and then pack them in plastic bags. If you have requirements on the freshness of vegetables, you may as well go deep into the vegetable market, and you may have a surprise discovery.
Compared with the large-scale indoor food market, the vegetable stalls in the villages in the city are more friendly. They are generally opened at the turning corner of the village road, and there are usually no signboards. The business hours are from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. to meet the needs of the late returning workers in the village. The prices are close to the people, and the categories are relatively complete, which is convenient for one-stop shopping.
Food stalls in Shipai village. (Photo by Wu Rong)
“It’s not the Internet giants that beat me, but I beat them,” a vegetable vendor in Shipai village, a village in Guangzhou, confidently told interface news
He believes that these giants can keep the price of vegetables very low in a short time, but after subsidies, the price of vegetables rebounds, and consumers will return. In addition, he thinks his dishes are cost-effective, and he can attract repeat customers with the help of word-of-mouth.
Guangzhou’s dependence on traditional vegetable vendors is not only related to the needs of a large number of people living in villages in the city, but also inseparable from the pursuit of taste of local people in Guangzhou. This is determined by the eating habits. The dishes in the north are more heavy, and the cooking methods do not have such high requirements for freshness. The southern taste is relatively light, and the requirements for the freshness of food materials are high. We attach importance to “chicken flavor, food flavor”, and naturally rely on the traditional food market. Under the influence of pragmatic and shrewd character, local residents in Guangzhou want to buy dishes that they can see, touch and choose. Just as the Cantonese saying goes, “choose your own seafood, it’s absolutely plain and beautiful.”.
In addition, it may be related to the mature local culture and retail environment of Guangzhou. In the view of many people who are familiar with the retail and FMCG industries, Guangzhou is often the “ultimate test room for retail”. When most of the “new formats” choose market development, Guangzhou often lags behind Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Chengdu. Only after having experience in other cities can they dare to drive to Guangzhou. Here, the life of boxers and community group buying may not be as good as expected.
Efficiency should not be the only criterion for evaluating urban development
A good city should accommodate more economic samples.

Although the development of cities will inevitably lead to the iteration or disappearance of some old economic forms, the key lies in whether our cities and society have enough capacity to accommodate diversified living space and multiple business models.
Take the existing three types of vegetable farms in Beijing as an example. Traditional vegetable vendors mainly set up stalls around large communities. They usually come 2-3 times a week to provide home delivery services. This convenience has won the trust of residents. Many private community grain stores have access to meituan. Although the freshness of dishes is better than that of traditional vegetable vendors, they are more convenient than boxes Ma has advantages in geographical location and has certain existence value. In addition, it is a large-scale city center food market represented by Sanyuanli vegetable market. The price of this online red vegetable market is not low, but the vegetable vendors there are still calm. They think that Sanyuanli will continue to survive when the community group buying fails, which can be said to be the representative of “on protracted war”.
Beijing Sanyuanli vegetable market (source: CFP)
According to Hu Gang, President of the South China City Research Association (think tank) and professor of Jinan University, the application of the Internet is a major trend of human development, and mobile phone shopping is not a great flood.
The birth and development of the Internet and new technologies do not necessarily bring about social unrest, which tests the determination, perseverance and management level of the government and urban administrators. Hu Gang believes that from the perspective of urban governance, it is necessary to set up public policies to limit the boundaries of the Internet and technology companies seizing the market.
“The stability of vegetable prices is a matter of people’s livelihood. As Premier Li Keqiang mentioned this year, there are 600 million people in China, whose monthly income is only 1000 yuan. Vegetable vendors are also relatively weak and low-income groups. To safeguard the interests of the low-income class, avoid class contradictions and maintain stability, we should set entry thresholds for some end-of-life industries to protect the weak and small classes.” Hu Gang said. In addition, it is also worth thinking about whether the vegetable vendors can return to the community and whether there is a good return mechanism for them.
However, he thinks that for the government, buying vegetables by mobile phone is still a new thing. Perhaps it does not know how to introduce policies to maintain the balance between the two. It is still in the exploratory stage, and the degree of intervention remains to be observed.
At the same time, if the vegetable market wants to survive, transformation is also essential.
Hu Gang said that for the transformation of the vegetable market, if the government can issue corresponding facilitation policies, it can also become a favorable way to guide and help vegetable vendors.
In fact, in recent years, many local governments have also issued relevant regulations to provide subsidies for the transformation and upgrading of the vegetable market. Since 2017, the Beijing Development and Reform Commission plans to invest 200 million yuan annually for three consecutive years to subsidize the construction of commercial and convenient service facilities, of which the vegetable market is the focus of the subsidy. In the past two years, Guangzhou is also implementing the upgrading project of vegetable market. Shanghai began to rectify the street vegetable market more than ten years ago. With the promotion of the old city reconstruction project, a large number of indoor vegetable markets have been built.
In Shipai village of Guangzhou, the existing vegetable market has been transformed into a life supermarket. (Photo by Wu Rong)
In addition to working from the environment and decoration style, the direction of transformation can also be more flexible. Professor Wu Wenjie, chief expert of major national social science projects and professor of Economics School of Jinan University, said in an interview with the media, On the one hand, it will cooperate with the online shopping platform to play a part of the storage function; at the same time, it also needs to retain and enlarge the original urban culture, social places, leisure and other differentiated functions of the vegetable market; it should play a comparative advantage, for example, in terms of convenience, the layout should be close to the residential area, and can provide home-to-door service for the surrounding residents; attract young groups to join More modern elements are introduced into traditional industries.
In addition, it is also advisable to refer to the practices of foreign vegetable markets. Nowadays, the vegetable market management in many countries emphasizes the public welfare attribute, and most of them keep the operation of low profit. For example, in Japan, the wholesale markets of agricultural products are dominated by central wholesale markets and local wholesale markets, with government investment. The construction land of the central and local wholesale markets is allocated or purchased by the government, and the construction of the wholesale market is invested. The general market does not pay any taxes and fees to the government, and there are preferential policies such as discount loans in the construction of public facilities in the wholesale market.
“As an important livelihood project and popular support project, the vegetable market has certain attributes of public goods. No matter what kind of management mode is adopted, it is a basic principle to maintain low profit operation and emphasize public welfare. ” Hu Gang told interface news that the above all test the governance level of city managers, rather than the Internet economic development can easily control.