Those of you who have read my story in ‘Was Gabo an Irishman?‘ would know that Bogotá (can’t speak for other rural areas which admittedly and sadly are much much poorer than the capital), like other developing countries’ cities, is enjoying a rising middle class and growing wealth. (Although, of course, this is hotly debated among various academics who will lament the rise of inequality and that a lot still needs to be done to reduce poverty, improve infant nutrition and expand access to heath care..)
With increasing disposable income, the middle class is spending. They’re buying – cars, electronic goods, TVs, and FOOD. With the latter, the problem is that basic food items like rice and vegetables are not at the receiving end of the increased spending, but sugar-loaded, chemicals packed processed food e.g. Cocacola and packaged bread like Bimbo‘s (a Mexican food processing giant) from multinationals that are hunting for income opportunities outside the developed world.
The other day I was at Alkosto, a popular megastore among the working/middle class that sells everything from food, iPads to tyres. When I was queueing (an activity that you often find yourself doing quite a bit here) at the till I entertained myself by watching the people there. Colombian middle class (who may be earning USD 1000-3000 a month as a household) pile their trolleys high with bulk size reconstituted ham and cheese for their daily ham & cheese sandwiches, sugary yogurt and soft drinks, food that is made to be seen as convenient, time-saving and ‘nutritious’. And precisely the same consumers are also piling up around their waistline.
It is in this backdrop that PriceSmart, the mecca of readymade convenient junk food enters the capital. In fact, it already operates in 6 different cities in the country. It has a slightly different clientele from Alkosto’s though. Bogotanos who go to PriceSmart range from middle to upper class, and they absolutely love the place. They (and others who come to the city for short trips. I, for one, know business owners from San Gil who visit the megastore regularly to stock their restaurants with the cheap buys) flood the place at weekends, their eyes wide open, their mouths also open in awe, marvelled at the array of choice. Yes, products stacked high to entice your consumer impulse so you will spend on things that you didn’t even realise you needed before. With Pricesmart, the upper class with spare cash no longer have to go to Miami for their annual shopping trips. They can get their American apple pie, Hershey’s, readymade tortilla cheese dips, linens, and even pillows for only a COP 65.000 anual membership fee. They will pile on the sugar, fat, and chemicals, and forget their lovely local fresh vegetables..
Let’s hope the government is ahead of the ravenous MNCs and introduce some good policies to avoid cases of serious obesity and diabetes..