An outdoor food market on the North Quay at Douglas aims to promote the best of Manx produce while encouraging new traders and supporting the island’s economy.
The fortnightly Douglas Foodies Market wants to provide ‘a full shopping basket of choice from local independent suppliers’.
It’s part of an initiative by the Manx Food Market Traders Association (Manx FMTA) to provide a flourishing food culture, offering an alternative to the regular supermarket shop for customers and an accessible route to market for producers.
The inaugural market was on Saturday, June 24, from 10am to 2pm, with the next one taking place this Saturday (July 8).
‘We launched with 19 stalls from some of the most vibrant food traders on the island, with more lined up for future markets including fishmongers and butchers,’ said James Quayle, chair of Manx FMTA.
‘The range of produce included chillies to cucumbers, from your daily bread to a celebratory cake, from micro-greens to a week’s supply of oven-eady vegan meals, from coffee to fuel your everyday as well as discovering the latest in adult, non-alcoholic drinks.
Positive feedback from traders and visitors alike suggests the food market can become a successful North Quay attraction.
‘It was really good from our perspective. There was a good atmosphere with the buskers, and numbers were good,’ said Stuart Meade of Red Mie, a smallholding in Ballaugh producing chillies, veg, Loaghtan, eggs and point-of-lay poultry.
‘In terms of footfall, in terms of engagement, in terms of people coming through, you could tell they really appreciated it. We all know there are problems with the high street economy, so getting people re-engaging with retail can only be a good thing.’
Stuart and wife Ruth have made Red Mie’s variety of chillies their signature product, developing hot sauces and hot honey that customers could try before buying at their pitch.
Stuart said he had previously discussed with other producers that Douglas was the right place to stage a food market.
‘But as producers, you don’t have the time to pick up the idea and run with it,’ he added. ‘All credit to the guys on the association – I don’t know how they put it together so quickly, but I take my hat off to them and the council for making it happen.’
The range of traders, coupled with some street food vendors and live music from Sean Crossley, Callum Brew, Alex Cowley and Jay O’Connell, created a good atmosphere, he felt.
‘You don’t want to go too big, too early. The first one went well and now there’s word of mouth as other people get excited about it, which will build more numbers and dovetail nicely with an increased number of producers, which leads to increased footfall,’ said Stuart.
‘It’s a case of maintaining that, and that’s incumbent on us all, producers and customers. Support it, and it will continue to grow.’
With the new season harvest about to begin, he said he would also be bringing fresh chillies to their stall and a special product exclusive to the market.
Part of the value of the market, he believes, is the different type of shopping experience it offers.
‘What you get here is providence, a story behind each product, all local from around the island. And customers can ask questions, like how to cook with that food, or what to use with it.’
The face-to-face engagement is important for producers as well, he said, with some comments from visitors at the market having inspired him to experiment with a potential new line.
‘You learn more about your products, and who is buying your products, rather than just being a click on the website.’
Those thoughts were echoed by Carla Fargher of Choose Coffee, who – always keen to take people on a coffee adventure – enjoyed the interaction with customers at her stall.
‘I was able to give them advice about various coffee blends and tastes, tips on what makes a good coffee, and they gave me insight for articles and blogs I could put out for potential new customers.”
A mostly online business, Carla said she has grown organically by word of mouth so far.
‘I would like to make the business bigger, possibly with a shop somewhere. The face-to-face business offered through the market is a step towards that, she said, citing the market experience as “a learning curve in a very supportive environment.’
She added: It’s really nice, it just encourages me in my growth. It would help anyone else who has an idea and wants to test the water without going all in.
There was a good atmosphere and the market will only get bigger. Bringing back these sort of individual shopping experiences can only be a good thing.
Carla plans to introduce different coffee-based drinks on her stall for future markets, and will be looking at speciality teas as well as part of growing the business.
Chocolatier Nina Cooper feels the market is a welcome addition to the area.
I lived in Douglas for 20 years, I know it was crying out for something like this,’ she said, pleased with how the first event had gone. ‘Footfall was good, we got quite busy and we did well.’
So well, in fact, that Nina sold out all her stock on the Chocolates of Man stall. Customers ordering the handmade chocolate from her website can have it infused from a selection of more than 40 flavours. Nina offers a range of themed chocolates as well, from dinosaurs and unicorn heads to motorbikes – always very popular during the TT Races.
Predominately an online business making product to order, most of her promotion is through platforms such as Face.
‘But not everyone is on social media,’ she said. ‘And I am a people person, so I like to see people at the stall. It’s nice to speak to customers face to face rather than contacting them online. I had several regular customers come down to see me at the market, to touch base and see if I’m doing something different.’
Good news for chocoholics is that Nina will constantly be refreshing the samples she offers at the fortnightly market: ‘I am already planning out my next set of flavours to take down with me. I may need more than six months to get through them all.’
James Quayle said the Manx FMTA was pleased with how the food market had been received, both in terms of what it means for local producers and by bringing something new to Douglas – particularly now the North Quay pedestrianisation for the summer months is a permanent fixture.
‘It’s a good place to watch the world go by, and the food market adds something interesting and different,” he said. “We’re giving a route to market that didn’t exist for small traders.
‘It’s started well, and is only ever going to get bigger and better. Visitors wanted to know when the next one would be, and when they come back they will find more traders, more choice, more great things to interest them.’
Food market panel:
The Manx FMTA is a new, not for profit trade association, open to all who want to create a flourishing food culture on the Isle of Man and run by volunteers.
It wants to build a food market culture that has broad appeal so as to become part of the regular shopping habits for residents, and which will have a positive economic impact for the traders, and for the local economy by increasing the on-island producers ‘share of purse’ at the expense of off-island based providers and retailers.
In its information pack to traders, it explains the group came about when a few producers discussed the difficulty of building a new business for fresh produce, “as there was no easy route to market, existing markets were not performing to their potential and there was no formal structure across government departments, with the resources to initiate new opportunities”.
The Manx FMTA sees its role as being “a catalyst, a facilitator enabler to open-up and promote new opportunities for food producers and traders on the Isle of Man.
“For the Douglas Foodies Market, we are acting as the single touchpoint for all traders, including applying for a stall and registering for a street trader license. This is to ensure that the paperwork side is more manageable for the authorities.”
The new food market has received encouragement and support from DEFA and Douglas City Centre Management.
Adi Moore, head of Food and Drink Development at DEFA, said: “We are delighted to support the Foodie Market: it will celebrate all types of local food and provide a one stop shop for those looking to buy more Manx Produce. It’s a real win-win story – supporting local producers, keeping spend in the local economy and lowering food miles.”
Oliver Cheshire, head of Douglas City Centre Management, said: “We are excited about bringing a regular open air food market to North Quay, the site of the previously bustling Victorian market.
“It achieves all of our objectives, creating a bustling ambience, offering the locals a useful amenity, a commercial benefit to local businesses by strengthening North Quay as one of the island’s premier hospitality venues and a place for all of the diverse communities from across the island, to come together.”