Apart from Japan, there is a similar system set up in France. Two hundred Perspex-fronted, coin-operated compartments are crammed with organic fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs sourced from the Île-de-France area, no more than 50 kilometres outside of the city.
Producers take up to 50 percent of the proceeds, a far higher cut than what offered by many supermarkets and one made possible thanks to self-service system and minimal staff expenses.
“The big distributors have killed small producers in France in the last ten years,” explains Julian, who began Au Bout Du Champ with friend Joseph. “Supermarkets like Monoprix demand cheap prices for food but the fruit and vegetables are not fresh and are imported from places like South America—they’re terrible and it’s not logical. Every weekend, I go to my parent’s house for a traditional Sunday lunch and we always buy well-priced, freshly picked produce from the farmer who has a stall close to the road. In the city there is nowhere to buy such food.”
“My mum told me it was a bad idea because when she buys vegetables, she likes to speak with the seller. She also likes to touch the tomatoes to feel if they are ready to eat,” says Julien. “I understand but imagine 100 people touching your tomatoes before you buy them—it’s not hygienic.”
“After a month or so we noticed that because there was no specific relationship between us—the seller—and the buyer, a bond was born between the consumers,” he adds. “The people entering the shop speak with one another about cooking, how the system works, and sometimes team up and divide the contents of each locker depending on what they want. It’s like a community.”
Julien and Joseph’s automats are supplied by not just one, but four producers. The seasonal fruit and veg is sent to the shops every day, equating to about 25 to 20 percent of each farmer’s overall production. Information displayed near each automat explains the farmers’ stories and the philosophy of supporting local businesses. Thanks to the self-service operation, the shops stay open seven days a week—a rarity in Paris.
“It’s also about education and showing people how good food is grown, where it comes from, and the value of supporting local economies.”