Cape Town. The Earth Fair Food Market held every Thursday in St Georges Mall is growing in popularity. Picture Ian Landsberg

Kieran Legg

Cadet News Agency

The weekly food market in St George’s Mall is just over a year old, but already has a roaring trade with some stalls raking in thousands of rands in just five hours.

Every Thursday, eager crowds congregate around the 25 stalls looking to sample the dishes on offer.

The owner of the EarthFair Food Market, Jacqui Simpson, said food markets were more than just a fashion trend. Some of the stalls earned “thousands” in an afternoon, and they also represented a new “ethical” way of shopping.

“You can buy straight from the producer. We want people to shop the way their grandparents did.”

That sentiment is echoed by numerous markets that have sprung up across the country, from culturally-themed markets such as the Boeremark in Pretoria, where dishes and goods have their own Afrikaans flavour, to the “hippy chic” offerings of Rondebosch’s Village market.

But what keeps people coming back? Shani du Venage, assistant manager at EarthFair, said the “quality” of products available to the consumer made markets an attractive option.

“There is no (individualised) quality control at the big chain supermarkets,” said Du Venage. “When you buy directly from the producer you know exactly what you’re getting.”

Sam Brown, the owner of Stokkiesdraai Biltong, a store that’s been part of the event since the beginning, said that being able to interact directly with customers set markets apart from supermarkets.

“Customers can tell you straightaway if anything’s wrong. Our biltong is only as good as it is now because we listen to our customers.”

Stokkiesdraai makes cuts of meat sourced from Namibia and Botswana to create their biltong. Brown said the stall sells out almost every Thursday within the five hours they operate.

The message behind the EarthFair Food Market is simple: it’s about cutting out the middle man and buying straight from the source. Simpson, who has a background in marketing, became disillusioned with the practices employed by big supermarkets, inspiring her to set up the market.

“Mass production has compromised not only the quality of food, but also the environment. Food markets represent an ethical way of shopping.”

The market held in St George’s Mall is subject to rigorous quality control. Any storeowners looking to set up stalls must apply online and go through a set of procedures before they can be part of the market.

“Most importantly, they need to understand the concept behind the market,” said Du Venage. “They also need to have a quality product.”

If a certain product is missing, a storeowner will be found to fill the gap. Stalls offering African and Thai cuisine will be joining the ranks this Thursday.

“Having a diverse range of products is important to the success of the market,” said Simpson.

Migdalia Bellorin, owner of the Orinoco, said that being at the stall was great exposure for her restaurant on Bree Street. Bellorin comes from Venezuela and her food reflects her South American roots.

“I like to introduce new flavours to people. Sometimes I have to teach people how to eat certain food, like someone asked for a fork with their burrito and I just told them no.” Bellorin said she sold between 200 and 250 dishes every Thursday.

Walter Krogh, owner of the Ciao Bella stall, which specialises in selling pizza slices, has been active at the market for around three months.

He said that while his turnover wasn’t great, the stall still paid for itself. The real strength of setting up at the fair is that it offers the perfect opportunity to expose his brand to new customers. Krogh manages to sell an average of 50 slices of pizza every Thursday.

“The organic movement is very popular at the moment,” said Simpson. “But it’s something I think will hang around. In Europe many people have moved over to shopping at markets and it’s a model we’re trying to make popular over here.”