Business - Issue 50 - Magazine | Monocle

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Market mover

The Netherlands — SUPERMARKET

The last time we visited Marqt (see Issue 15), founded in Amsterdam in 2008 by entrepreneurs Quirijn Bolle and Meike Beeren, it was distinguishing itself through select partnerships with local producers, ranging from regional farmers to artisan bakers.

Products are still delivered directly and prices are determined by the producers, with Marqt receiving a percentage of the profits. The idea is to put the “market” back in supermarket, with a commitment to fresh and sustainably sourced products. Currently operating three stores in Amsterdam and Haarlem – and employing 140 people – Marqt is set to expand to 15 locations in the Netherlands by 2013.


Fast food


Fresh Moves may sound like Chicago’s hot new dance troupe, but actually it’s a one-aisle, mobile grocery store that delivers fresh meat and produce to low-income communities in an effort to improve public health.

Having bought an ageing city bus off the Chicago transit authority for $1, the team behind Fresh Moves kitted it out as a supermarket in June with help from Architecture for Humanity Chicago. It’s particularly valuable in “food desert” urban areas, a census area a few kilometres from a grocery store such as the West Side neighbourhoods of Austin and Lawndale.

“We’ve created an innovative solution to a widespread societal issue,” says co-founder Sheelah Muhammad. “Our success proves that there’s a demand for healthy food in historically excluded communities.” Fresh Moves now plans to add new buses, enhance its product line and expand its coverage across the city.


Farm by phone


Farming drives Kenya’s economy, but for its majority smallholder farmers with poor access to market information, getting a fair price can be difficult.

With more than half of the country’s 40 million people using mobile phones, Kenya’s ICT entrepreneurs have seized on mobile technology to launch world-leading innovations. “The Nairobi tech community was taking off, there were tech competitions and investors willing to put in the money,” says 27-year-old Jamila Abass, one of three IT graduates behind MFarm.

From the fertile slopes of the Rift Valley, a farmer can learn the going rate for his crops several hundred kilometres away in the capital, Nairobi, simply by sending a text message. The live price pings back in seconds.

In its first year, more than 3,000 farmers have signed up to MFarm. With the arrival in East Africa of cheap smartphone technology and falling internet costs, Abass is setting her sights on the internet. “Imagine the next step – farmers getting their information online.”

The name’s bond

South Africa

The African giant is considering issuing its first Islamic-compliant national bonds – known as sukuks – in its 2012 budget. Islamic finance is one of the fastest growing financial sectors, with estimates putting growth at 15 to 20 percent. While other bond markets flail, sukuks grew by around 60 per cent in 2011.

New leaf

Global — TEA

With family roots going back to tea plantations in East Africa, the Lalani brothers were steeped in loose tea from an early age. “I remember visits to Tunisia when I was four and spending hours talking to the men who made mint teas instead of running around outside,” says Jameel Lalani.

Having left Oxford University in 2010, Jameel, then 23, started out in the tea business with his brother Nadeem and close family friend AK Kassam, 22 and 21 respectively. “Tea is an old boys’ club and you can’t get by without deep knowledge,” says Nadeem. “People were surprised to find twenty-somethings showing them a thing or two.”

Elevating tea drinking to an art form akin to wine tasting would not be easy in the 95 per cent bag-dominated UK market, however. “There’s an extraordinary tradition in loose tea going back 4,000 years in the Far East,” says Nadeem. “That’s what we want to rejuvenate – and the UK market is ready.”

“The finest teas are worth 25 times their weight in gold in parts of East Asia – and yet the UK market is content with a generic brew from a bag,” says Jameel. Pointing to a growing consumer awareness of provenance and craft, he says it’s not long time before tea drinking catches up.

Now working with micro producers in more than seven countries, Lalani & Co have worked their way into prestige UK retailers including Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

Three top teas:

  1. Big Island, Hawaii: Run by a husband and wife team, and grown on a 400-year-old ash deposit, this tea retails for €7,650/kg.
  2. LaKyrsiew Estate, India: Based in the highland Meghalaya province, the tricky terrain means this is virgin soil for tea growing.
  3. Jun Chiyabari, Nepal: One of the most creative new estates; it stands out from bland darjeeling imitators.

Pushing the boat out


The words “super yacht” don’t necessarily go with “carbon neutral”, but the new Twizzle luxury yacht by Burgess is just that. Carbon emissions from the engine and construction are offset at production and the boat is fully-equipped for cruising in environmentally sensitive waters.

With a number of hi-tech innovations, sailors will appreciate the main and mizzen sails hoisting simultaneously (and silently) in less than two minutes. Staying in touch? Guests can contact the mainland on Twizzle’s own mobile phone network.

Black gold rush

Libya — OIL

While the streets of Libya’s cities may still be filled with bullet-scarred pickup trucks carrying Kalashnikov-toting rebel fighters, the lobbies of its international hotels are thronging with a different crowd – international investors looking to tap into Libya’s oil wealth.

“It’s a rich country that’s been put on hold for 42 years and now they’re back,” says Justin Marozzi of Albany Associates, a strategic communications firm that is looking to open an office in the capital, Tripoli, in 2012.

Many of the foreign companies that were active in the country before the revolution are already returning – such as Italian oil giant, ENI. With a population of just over six million, the largest known oil reserves in Africa and a Mediterranean coast, Libya presents an enticing prospect.

But repairing the damage wrought by decades of state corruption and inefficiency will not be easy.

Brand awareness


The middle class in China continues to prop up Europe’s luxury brands, even as the Old World economies crumble around their ears. Last year saw record-breaking results in the luxury sector, with the likes of Hermès and Louis Vuitton surging into Asia and the Richemont group growing by 60 per cent.


Peggy Liu

Co-founder of JUCCCE


Liu, co-founder of JUCCCE, the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, organised the fourth China Energy Clean Technology Forum last year.

Is China serious about environmental change?
With the 11th and 12th Five Year Plans for the nation, China has set firm targets for emissions and energy reductions. China is clearly not doing this in response to international pressures or simply climate change, but the growing reality that energy, water and food security are key to the future.

How are businesses reacting to the government’s push to become more sustainable?
Hedging your bets and having insurance towards future fluctuations in energy, water and water prices and inputs just makes business sense in a country that is still the factory of the world. These input prices affect competitiveness, so local companies are paying attention.

What does this mean for the next wave of Chinese to join the urban middle classes?
More than half a billion people were lifted out of poverty in China because of land redistribution reforms – but that is unreplicable today. China is about producing and selling goods. GDP is reliant on this. As they consider the future flow of growth, there is an overlap between poverty reduction and environmental stability.

How can the average person guarantee against these fluctuations?
The next achievable miracle may come from the ability of farmers or anyone with a rooftop to generate and sell electricity on their own. This could be international: anyone with space, equipment and microfinance.

Are there already examples?
In Germany, farmers are putting solar panels on fields and finding it doesn’t interfere with sunlight or affect crop yields.

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