Will foodie culture save the mall?
Food halls have earned a lot of attention among food lovers as they proliferate around the country, but retail observers have questioned their value. A study from WD Partners, however, finds that a number of different food concepts could be helpful in lifting traffic at malls.
Of 11 mall concepts tested, farmers markets, food halls and grocery stores were among the top four concepts preferred and most likely to increase visits based on responses to a related survey.
The power of food as a traffic driver was also evident when survey respondents were asked which concept they would add beyond their favorite one. The top addition was again found to be farmers markets, followed by food halls and grocery.
Food concepts were also found to welcomed at malls across generations. Seventy-seven percent of digital natives (age 18 to 29) indicated that having a farmers market would influence their decision to visit a mall, versus 75 percent for digital immigrants (age 46 and older). Food halls scored 78 percent and grocery scored 66 percent for digital natives versus an only slightly lower (61 percent and 55 percent, respectively) for digital immigrants.
Digital natives were found to be significantly more interested than their older counterparts in adding other innovative concepts, including adding green space, indoor sports complex, fitness centers, a beauty mega store and co-working space to the mall. One finding from this was that the mall’s “entire format needs to adapt to the new realities of social and commercial life.”
But the study authors pointed out that malls are far from embracing the broad trends toward health and wellness, including local food and farm-to-table dining, that drives foodie culture. Wrote WD Partners, “The empty food culture of America’s dying, traditional malls, must die first. Otherwise, reinvention isn’t possible.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see food concepts — farmers markets, food halls, grocery — helping to revive traffic at the mall? Would bringing food culture be a minor or major step in increasing the social relevance of malls?