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the great return of traveling grocers

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For a long time, grocers toured the countryside to supply the inhabitants of small villages. The era of large commercial surfaces has condemned many of them. A new generation still wants to believe it.

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They had almost disappeared from the Belgian countryside. Carried away, like most small shops, by the takeover of convenience stores, then supermarkets, then hypermarkets. It was without counting on the will of a few die-hards who wanted, at all costs, in recent years, to launch their mobile grocery store. If the Covid-19 pandemic was a great breeding ground for these entrepreneurs, many managed to survive the return of “good old habits”.

Among them, Marie-Isabelle Wilmet, 37, manager of La Vroum à Bulk. Active between Namur and Andenne, the young woman realized her dream of crisscrossing the small towns of her region to offer bulk, organic and, for the most part, local products such as oatmeal, biscuits, cereals, pasta, dried fruits, oils… “The idea of ​​an itinerant trade came to me in 2019, while discussing with my companion, when I realized the disappearance of shops in many villages, says this former IT employee and graduate in biology. This is, in my opinion, a good way of continuing to offer a service to the local populationespecially to people who can no longer move.

I really provide a social function because I am much more than an Amazon delivery person.

Six months of staggered management courses and a truck purchase later, Marie-Isabelle launched her business in August 2020. Since then, her weekly schedule has been well established. “Each day of the week, I move to a different place,” she says. In Namêche, I stand in front of the station. In Loyers, it’s next to the butcher’s shop. This allows customers to do their shopping in different shops located nearby at the same time as they come “to my house”. If it’s a private place, I just need to get permission from the owner. If it’s a municipal road, I need the green light from the municipality.” One contact profession which gives him the opportunity to communicate around values ​​that are dear to him: “In particular, to convey the message to my clients that it is essential to have a Healthy eatingthat is local as possible and where all the links in the chain perceive a fair remuneration.” Even if Marie-Isabelle Wilmet admits it is still difficult to earn money, she would like, in 2023, to launch the bicycle parcel delivery around his home. “The scope is still to be defined and my companion would be in charge of this new project.”

In Marie-Isabelle’s La Vroum bulk truck, bulk, organic and, for the most part, local products. © dr.

Diversify, the key to sustainability for grocers

The delivery of food parcels, Brice Denoz, manager of Vrac’OliBri, has made it its niche. With his van, he transports a whole series of orders in the greater Verviers region, four days a week. The rest of the time, it is present on a few company sites, partner store car parks or market places. Every day, the schedule is almost the same. “Every morning, I go to get supplies from my suppliers, then I prepare my orders at home before ensuring deliveries between the end of the day and the beginning of the evening, explains this 41-year-old father who covers a total of nearly forty municipalities. I have just moved to take advantage of a larger storage space, where I can store dairy products, hygiene items, bulk items and zero waste… Apart from a fridge, a dishwasher and my fuel, I don’t have finally no big costs compared to a shop.»

However, the job remains difficult: cash inflows are uncertain and competition is fierce with supermarkets offering more and more organic and bulk products. However, Brice is not resigned: “I am lucky to have regular customers, such as schools or companies to which I deliver fruit all year round..As for the profile of his other clients, it is very varied. “Some don’t have a vehicle or especially any money; others do not plan to take the bus with cartons of milk under their arms; there are also large families who lack time, elderly people whose children take care of online orders»

A very varied profession whose backbone remains contact with customers. “I really assure a social function because I am much more than an Amazon delivery person. For some clients, I even store groceries in the cupboards! It is this precious time in contact with my regulars that I want to be able to keep. A time that gives back its letters of nobility to the local trade. And which embodies, in its own way, the development of the short circuit.

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