At the beginning of the 1980s central Newcastle upon Tyne, like other northern cities and towns in England, had a limited range of food retail outlets.
During the 1970s the city centre had undergone a major upheaval with the construction of the Eldon Square Shopping Centre [and the initial phases of the Metro transport system]. While these redevelopments improved the shopping experience of the city centre, they had not brought added diversity to the food segment of the retail sector.
Newcastle upon Tyne has a compact city centre with most of the main streets being in walking distance of the main public transport hubs. The City has a relatively small population [currently less than 300,000] although it forms part of the larger Tyne and Wear conurbation.
Newcastle upon Tyne views itself as the regional capital and therefore attracts shoppers and visitors from further afield compared to other shopping centres in the North East.
What were the main features affecting the city’s food retail sector?
The City Centre in the 1980s
The upper segment of the market was mainly served by Marks and Spencer and the food hall of Fenwicks.
The mid-market shoppers tended to visit Presto’s. This was a relatively small supermarket by 2012 standards. This chain was part of Safeway which in turn was taken over by Morrisons. This shop was located in Nelson Street near the former Green Market part of Eldon Square. Arguably, ‘middle-market’ shoppers also used the food hall in the main Co-op building in Newgate Street.
The lower value segment of the food market was arguably served by smaller retailers in the Greenmarket section of Eldon Square and the more traditional Grainger Market. Although it is difficult to generalise as the Green Market had specialist units which could cater for specialist interests.
At this time there was also a variety of sandwich shops in the city centre, like the stalls in the Greenmarket and Grainger Market, they were mainly locally-owned businesses.
Large retail expansion in the Newcastle/Tyneside area post c1990
The development of the Gateshead Metro Centre in 1986 could have led to the decline of small shopping centres on Tyneside. Also the expansion of large retail parks, such as at Kingston Park, could have led to the decline of suburban high streets such Gosforth High Street. Large car parking facilities and more ‘weekly food shops’ could have led to less use of local ‘shopping parades’.
Changes to urban residential patterns
The development of the city’s universities has led to a growth in the student population. This may have led to a greater demand for food retailing facilities in [or near] to the city centre.
The rapid expansion of the student accommodation in the Manors area [to the east of the city centre] has also led to other food and associated retailing outlets being established. The main food retailer in the Manors area is the Sainsbury’s shop. This is located near a student accommodation block in New Bridge Street. Sainsbury’s have also opened a new outlet in premises adjacent to Newcastle Central Station on Neville Street.
The regeneration of the City’s Quayside since 1990 has affected food retailing. Residential developments have led to the need for facilities such as the Tesco Metro shop.
Sandwich Shops, Takeaways, Cafes, Pubs and Restaurants
These retail activities have significantly increased in importance over the last 30 years in the food retailing space. This has reflected the societal trend towards more ‘eating out’.
Over the past three decades the standard of food retailing seems to have improved; as the number and diversity of premises has increased. Consolidation in this sector can be expected with few further openings expected. The city centre already has two Sainsbury’s, two Tesco’s, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall and Fenwick’s Delicatessen. Therefore, Newcastle upon Tyne reflects the dominance of the major national retailers.
The Grainger Market
This is the most important indoor market in the city centre. It is a listed building and is one of the biggest markets in the United Kingdom.
It offers a large range of products including fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables and meat and fish. It also has handmade crafts and hardware. There are also cafes which have grown up over recent years.
It is also famous for a Marks and Spencer “Penny Bazaar" which is one of the country’s oldest original stalls.
The Grainger Market is close to public transport such as Monument Metro and buses on Grainger Street.
Newcastle Street Markets
Since the early 1980s central Newcastle has had relatively few street vendors selling food. A few fruit and vegetable stalls have been located in Grainger Street and the Bigg Market. However, most food and vegetable stall-type businesses were located indoors such in the Grainger Market.
Newcastle Farmers’ Market
A farmers’ market was established in central Newcastle in the early 2000’s. During the initial wave of interest in this type of retailing a cluster of other farmers’ markets were established; and held on regular dates at venues throughout the North East Region including Tynemouth market.
The current Newcastle Farmers’ Market allows local residents and visitors to Newcastle to buy food from regional producers. This helps reduce the miles that the food has travelled before it reaches the plate. It also helps money to stay in the local economy.
A list of current traders at the Farmers’ Market is shown on the City Council’s website.
The only other regular street market held in the vicinity of the City Centre is the Sunday Quayside Market held by the River Tyne. This market attracts a wide range of vendors but only a small number regularly offer food and related products. The Quayside Market takes place every Sunday morning. This market has traders selling local crafts, artwork and food.
Fast Food and Takeaways
One of the fastest growth areas in food retailing in the last 30 years has been from fast food outlets and takeaways. There have been many hot food sellers operating from vans in central Newcastle. These transient activities were located at various locations including the Bigg Market and more recently the pedestrian area outside The Gate complex in Newgate Street. Some of these mobile operators also arrived on match days to sell hot food to football fans attending games at St James’ Park.
This is a hygiene initiative run by local councils and co-ordinated by the U.K. Food Standards Agency. It is a nationwide food hygiene marking system where local authorities rate food businesses; in particular small food outlets which may not be trusted by the public
Councils aim to promote food safety and encourage consumer choice by making information to available to the public. Members of the public can learn about the management and preparation of any food premises, by visiting the council website.
In Newcastle, in the 1980s and 1990s, there were many food takeaways, restaurant and food retail businesses which had a poor reputation for food hygiene.
Arguably, food standards have improved. This may be due to a greater standardisation of food outlets with consistent food handling practices. Also it may be due to independent food outlets being driven from the market; by market forces as much food hygiene.
Food Poverty and Charities in Newcastle
There has been one part of the food sector that has rarely received publicity in the media and which is usually below the radar; the distribution of food by charities and voluntary groups to the poor and homeless. The extent of food poverty in Newcastle is not fully documented but there is likely to be a significant portion of the city’s population on low income who probably fall within this category.
The UK network FareShare has a regional distribution depot [operated by the Cyrenians charity] based in Newburn Riverside, near the western edge of Newcastle. FareShare is just one organisation that works in this sector; many other organisations and voluntary groups [including local churches] provide meals and food to vulnerable and poor members of the community.
Concerns have been raised over the further consolidation of food retail, in Newcastle. For example, the Asda and the Morrisons in the Byker area could take business away from smaller and independent businesses on the Shields Road. Indeed, Morrisons and Asda could act as 'bookends' dominating the retail activities in between.