Have We Killed Quality

Joined Mar 12, 2004
In the small town where I live here in Pennsylvania, we have lost 2 bakeries, 3 butchers, and about a dozen produce markets in the last 10 years. We now have no butchers, no bakers, and only one small year-around produce stand. Of course in the summer, we have an abundance of farm stands, but those are seasonal and selections are usually hit and miss.

It appears that the demise such vendors has been the result of super discount stores, such as Wal-mart, and the mega supermarkets. Certainly in this area the trend was rather obvious--as the big stores opened or remodeled, the little guys were soon gone. Of course, all of this seems to feed our (American's) obsession with low low prices. It seems that service, quality, and selection count for nothing anymore.

Sure, those big stores have big produce and meat departments, but the selection is still only average in quality and specialty items are almost non-existent. Local produce is very rare in these stores. The produce manager is probably overworked and underpaid, and finds it much easier to deal with a couple of big suppliers rather work with a number of local farmers. I recently asked my produce manager if he would be handling local morels this spring. He replied, "Oh no, those are expensive."

I sure do miss the produce shops where I could find new and different products along with a knowledgeable staff that would keep me informed about the latest finds and peak flavors. I also miss the butcher who knew that marbling wasn't a dirty word, and could prepare a standing rib roast without lengthy explanation. And talking bread with my local baker is such a distant memory that it practically brings tears to my eyes.

What have we done to ourselves? Is this what they call progress? Or am just getting be a grumpy old man unwilling to accept change?

Thanks for allowing me to vent!

Joined Jan 5, 2001
I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me but I'll say it anyway.

If no one knows what a flat iron steak (for ex.) is, then no one will buy it. Those who sell it will disappear. This is not Wal-Mart's fault. The big guys are just responding to the demand. There is no better way to understand what people know/want than to examine their spending patterns. Some might view this as a chicken and egg conundrum. I don't. It's a consumer driven trend. People demand cheap and fast, and don't seem to mind jeopordizing their health and their family dinner time to get it.

There is only one way to influence consumer demand, and that's through education. The small farmer/butcher/bakery have to find ways of reeducating North Americans. Sadly they have not yet found the right medium. I think together as a network, they could be capable of great things.

In my city, it's become "cool" to go to the farmer's market. And while the giant discount stores are not about to go out of business soon (thank goodness; cheap toilet paper rules!), the commercial and the artisanal seems to cohabitate quite well. I think that by not fighting eachother, both have found their niches and thrive comfortably.
Joined Jul 31, 2000

I agree here also, To a point.

We have seen the fall of many family run food based stores in the last 15 years. You really need to be in a highly populated Metro area to see the two co-exist.

I grew up in my grandfathers bakery, and my first real job at 15 was at a local butcher. Sad to say there all gone now and the "mega"stores sell everything from "cheap" toilet paper to CBA beef.

If you want ugly fruit you can but it at stop and shop, if you want passion fruit, you can buy it at shop rite, if you want "gased" tomatoes you can buy them at shaws, but if you want golden lobe peaches and white cherries, or ramps and frais du bois, or a loaf of bread made with a 5 year old organic starter, you will have to seek out the shops that support these things and still prepare in-house and search out the farmers.

When you walk the isle of these "mega" stores, almost every ethnic denomination is reprosented, but it's all the BIG name brand stuff.

We don't have much choice in regards to the Wal Marts of the world, But, we do have a choice in how we shop, and who we support.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Quality killed itself.

In the current market place, the "comparative advantage" of quick and easy outcompeted interesting bread and good meat. There was no sufficeint niche of demand to support it.

If quality is to come back, it will have to create a new comparative advantage or be produced with some other comparative advantage that will allow it to trade in the market. Which could be a formation of the niche through education but other possible advantages do exist. Production cost, or a shelf stability breakthrough could do it too.

When quality costs more than it's perceived value, it will not survive.

Joined Aug 11, 2000
Not only surviving but thriving! And eating great food too boot....!!!! several new venders and bakeries this year!AND fresh chickens, farm eggs etc.....
Joined Dec 4, 2002
I think people (some, most?) are begining to realize the value of "quality," and are willing to pay for it.

I have begun baking all bread products on premises, dry-aging beef, smoking, making ice cream etc., and it seems to have made an impact. Using local purveyors (similarly quality driven ones ) also seems to make a difference. I'm ready to throw out the mainline dry goods people as well. Wishfull thinking I know, but inevitible.

Remember to use no false base.
Joined Oct 5, 2003
I think that both the commercial "fast & easy" and artisanal approaches can and do co-exist, and that's not going to change.

The reality is that most people will still pick up the easiest and cheapest products. Look at all of the "dinner bakes," saute in a bag meals, and now pre-cooked refrigerated meats. This stuff largely isn't fit to eat, but it sells. And most consumers will buy that $0.39/ lb. chicken from a factory and think they are doing something good for their family, rather than opt for small producers.

On the upside, even in the larger supermarkets well-made products and locally-sourced produce may be available. Artisanal breads, cheeses from everywhere, and naturally-raised meats are just some of the things that I've seen start to infiltrate the supermarkets over the last say, 10 years.
Joined Apr 14, 2004
I was just told by corporate that I am not allowed to use our local meat purveyors and we must purchase from UFfoods (which are fine in their own right) but I live in KANSAS- hello, there goes my local beef! The customers probably won't know they are eating beef from another part of the country, but I do, and it burns me.
Joined Oct 13, 2001
I think all we can do as chefs or owners is to support the people who still produce food in a heartfelt and loving manner.Our local ranchers and farmers do need our support and our dollars if they are going to be able to continue to give us that which we want to work with.
When people ask me how do you make your food taste so good I tell them that the secret to being a good chef is to use the best product possible!
Without our support this will become a harder issue to deal with!
Who knows about tomarrow? All we can do is wait and see . Remember that the pendulam swings first one way and then another. Peace , Doug.........


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
They may have a specialty foods division... nah, too much trouble. :)
Joined Aug 11, 2000
I visited 4 farmer's markets yesterday....kinda cool cus I NEVER get to during the season. It was interesting.
#1 is a start up this year and is in a parking lot in prime real estate haven....the ambience stinks (trash truck drove through the middle of market at 9am to pick up trash at the end of the lot) 3 farmers had stuff they grew....white asparagus, spinach, sprouts, greens, green onions, flowers, bedding plants. The other participants were a florist, junk shop and dog biscuits.

#2 lamb/eggs and then vegetables from brokers.....I picked up Halibut and crab for maki and just good eats from the proveyer inside.

#3 Great 2nd year market with a bunch of small farmers, music, bakeries, alot of the farmers were brokers of others products.....ie they may grow part of what they sell. Lots of community support but not a whole lot of buying.

#4 Veneriable 200 year old market with few farmers left. I can count on rhubarb, poke salad, mint, leaf lettuce...etc. Great brats! Got organic pumpernickle bread to go with the butter and french radishes.

So, markets are opening and it is difficult to know what is local at these various markets....unless your pretty ontop of it, you'd never know.
A local magazine just did an article on me, basically my personal history and promoting of local food at the market....the artwork at the bottom of the mag had red peppers, avacados, tomatoes, etc.....none in season and few grown locally :( :eek:

Just seems like a long term project that does not get alot easier.....sometimes I really wonder if the farmers understand that by brokering they are loosing their selling premium.

Clayton Farmer's Market opens May 22! I'm gearing up for an interesting year.

Would I travel to shop at great stores with artisinal products....YEP! as far as NYC or SF....shoot if I find out about a really great bakery or market it is on my agenda to visit.....possibly traveling thousands of miles out of my way to do so. :D
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