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Park Street Gourmet: Making shopping cool again!


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By Madushka Balasuriya

“Sri Lanka is undergoing what I like to call a gastronomic revolution,” an enthusiastic Suren Mirchandani tells me. “And here, we wanted to house those products at a venue reflective of our goal to bring that revolution from the restaurant table to the kitchen table.”

Mirchandani is speaking to me about his latest venture, Park Street Gourmet (PSG), a one-stop-shop for craft, local, and international produce, unlikely to be found under one roof anywhere else in the country. 

Be it black quinoa from Bolivia, locally-made granola, gluten-free pasta, choice cuts of Australian beef, assortments of cold cuts and cheese, artisanal tea, freshly made bread, or bee’s honey from Mahiyanganaya, PSG has got you covered.

Located on Colombo’s vibrant Park Street, the shop’s spacious, well-lit, rustic interior screams high-end but with prices that have been known to surprise. With jazz playing in the background, suppliers on occasion seen buzzing near store shelves, and in-house product demonstrations de rigueur, PSG is unlike any food store you’ve ever been too.

“We want to make shopping for food pleasurable again; not your fluorescent-lit, multi cash register, long queue kind of experience. We want to create an atmosphere that would make a reluctant supermarket shopper want to shop again,” elucidates Mirchandani.



A shop-window for local craft producers

Add to this a business model that works on variable margins, and you begin to see a shopping experience that is as far removed from a visit to the local supermarket as can be. While the quality of international products are somewhat of a given, the focus on local producers is what really sets PSG apart.

“Craft producers don’t have the opportunity to be in the modern trade. That’s why you only see them selling at the Good Market. They have volume and supply chain challenges. Modern corporations pay them after 90-120 days – they can pick up their cash here on a weekly basis.

“Modern trade also works on a fixed margin. Craft producers can’t give them that margin, because if they do, the product becomes ridiculously expensive. Our margins vary from product to product. Many of our craft producers will price themselves out of the market if we insist on supermarket type margins for ourselves.”

For PSG the end goal is to facilitate a physical space for small craft producers from all around the country, but at the same time ensure that they can offer competitive prices while being allowed to supply at a pace they’re comfortable with.

“Many small producers don’t have the distribution bandwidth; they tend to be single location, back of the house and own a single outlet. They can’t afford this kind of exposure.

“So what we try to do is tell them, ‘we are your partner, we’re providing you a window – a home – where your brands can express themselves to your consumers in a venue that matches your brand’s qualities’.” 

Indeed PSG does not purchase or import any of their products, instead it offers craft producers the opportunity to showcase their products at an attractive venue that Mirchandani believes is at the “heart of the gastronomic revolution”.

“With the offices and apartments nearby there must be around 10,000 people living in the area, so we are sitting at the centre of what we believe is the highest entertainment pedestrian footfall in the country,” he notes. “And we give tiny, tiny brands which are so far unheard of around Sri Lanka a huge physical opportunity. It’s like taking a little guy from Mahiyanganaya and putting him right at the heart of the gastronomic revolution.

“We don’t really buy or sell anything, what we do is tell them ‘you are great producers, let us help you bridge the gap between your great product and your consumers, let us help you get the eyeballs. You make it and we will sell it.’”



Something new every week

The ramifications of such a model are manifold, and in many ways it is what differentiates PSG from larger supermarket chains. As they do not technically purchase their products, the availability of a particular item is purely at the behest of their suppliers; this explains the ‘sold out’ signs sparsely scattered on store shelves. But it also keeps the experience fresh for customers who can expect new items and additions on a near-weekly basis.

“The idea of craft produce is that we don’t mind the supply shortage, that’s why you see the ‘sold out’ boards. Part of our ethos is that it is the food of the week, whatever is available and in stock.”

This also means that many suppliers frequent the shop premises quite regularly, giving customers the opportunity to meet producers first hand while also opening up avenues for producers to highlight their products in unique ways – as highlighted by a recent pop-up pasta station inside the store.

“There is a direct brand to consumer interaction, not just with the brand but brand creator. We encourage our craft producers to use the space to interact with consumers.

“This is like event central for craft pairings, we have tastings, and that’s a key differentiator. It’s very unique that customers interact with the suppliers.”

With such a unique model, however, the key challenge lays on the marketing front; with a high-end location and a finite supply of local and international products to shift, marketing and branding becomes essential. Something that was initially a challenge, explains Karin Wijeratne, Head of Brands at Favourite International Ltd., the parent company to Park Street Gourmet.

“Because it’s new and one of a kind, no one really understood what the gourmet store was about. People passed it, and at inception they thought it was a cafe,” she recalls.

“So our first challenge was essentially trying to get people to understand what it was, and to teach people what products we had. That was done mainly through website, social media, PR pieces etc. 

“Then the PSG wine market opened everyone’s eyes to what this really was. Now there are more events and products. With Facebook and Instagram we have a nice rapport with our loyal customers and we get a lot of new customers that way as well.”



To your doorstep

But where PSG’s real strength lies is in their bread and butter - or should I say, wine and cheese. Well before Favourite International got into the business of selling gourmet produce, they were a beverage company, specifically a beverage delivery company. 

Through ZipSip, an online and app-based delivery service, Favourite International’s other venture, Wine.lk, provided on-demand delivery in and around Colombo for a variety of alcoholic beverages, a service that has now been expanded to delivering products sold at Park Street Gourmet.

“Coming to our wine business, food and wine go together. We started ZipSip as a delivery only service for our time-treasured consumers – we like to call them cash-rich and time-poor – but through that we were getting calls asking for things other than beverages, like food products,” explains Mirchandani.

“So, like Amazon, we started in reverse – clicks first and brick and mortar second. Because you see when people are tired of shopping at a physical space, they move to digital, but what happens when you move to digital is that you lose a touch and feel for the products. And we felt it was time for that change; looking at it on a screen is very different from coming and seeing it all in one place.”

PSG also has an entire section dedicated to their selection of wines and beers which, according to Mirchandani, was a natural accompaniment to the rest of their product portfolio.

“We curate the products. We like to think of this as a place where you walk in one side and walk out the other side with everything you need for great meal. We like to stand out from the noise, this is a place where foodies can come and pick up ingredients that you would like to see in the pantries and shelves of every single person that likes to cook.”

In the end for PSG it’s about offering a win for all those involved; they don’t want to compete with supermarkets, but merely complement. That said they do want to disrupt the notion that shopping is a boring weekend activity where you shuffle mindlessly through a pre-determined list. For Mirchandani, it’s about rehabilitating the shopping experience. “We wanted to create the best retail venue for wine anywhere in Sri Lanka, and I think we’ve done that. We also wanted to renovate the supermarket experience for consumers, and through that we’re providing a home in a heritage venue for small brands to express themselves.”

“It’s not a premium priced store, but it’s nothing less than changing the meaning of what it means to go to the supermarket around. We want to make it cool to shop again.”

Park Street Gourmet is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at No. 33B Park Street, Colombo 2. For more information visit www.parkstreetgourmet.com.


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