Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “Where are our leaders?”

18 May 2022, 07:12 AM
  • Stefano Cuomo, CEO of Macknade Food Hall, tells Speciality Food how we can reshape the world of business with the community at its heart
Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “Where are our leaders?”

As a kid I was told we get the leaders we deserve. I look around today and I wonder who those leaders are. Far from having who we deserve, there don’t seem to be any… at least not in the traditional sense!

Then, as I play closer attention, I hear the wise words of colleagues I have grown up alongside and I see the actions of peers, folk I don’t even know, surmounting the daily challenges left at their doors. I see towns, within which we live and operate, rallying together to set a path for the future, and it starts to make sense.

Where we used to look up, in some perverse search for leadership ‘from above’, we are now looking around and within. It is a truism (but there within sits the joy!) that our community is us and we will lead it.

Within this, the role of SMEs has never been more crucial, we are at the heart of our communities, providing a sense of stability and continuity in an ever-flexing world, as micro communities collide with macro issues.

It is the agility and emotive intelligence of businesses, operating on the ground, that have delivered the support of government and state, and none more so than those within the food and drink sector.

Now, let’s go one step further… bricks and mortar SMEs are really what count!

With megalithic delivery platforms, seemingly run on marketing budgets and pumped private equity cash, chasing valuations whilst trading at losses, it is the small and medium, long-term place makers that are keeping our communities pulsing. These are spaces people can go to reconnect, learn and build careers in, or stages to tell the meaningful stories of wonderful produce… produce that will help us balance the gluttoned consumption wreaked by the supermarket culture of past decades.

This is a prophetic paradox best expressed by the latest bout of margin chasing, ripping out their remaining interactive counter, when our very essence as retailers is interactive experience!

We are here to engage with our customers, to tell them stories and share why our products are so special, why less is more, why the price of food matters, how to use different cuts to feed the family, and why what we eat and how we eat it makes us human.

Are we at the magic nexus whereby the supermarket culture finally eats itself? Are we moving to a binary society based on a) a delivered world with speed and price as its measuring stick and b) one where quality and community are valued and understood?!

I believe so and have seen it roll forward through my own four decades of family business.

As the big businesses of our childhood wither, and space for us to replace them grows, I return to the question of where are the leaders?
Again, it must be us. Not as individuals, but as businesses, collectives and communities.

Humanity is going through its greatest challenges, and where we have previously looked to the macro environment for answers, we must focus on the micro and what we can deliver ourselves.

The IPCC working group’s latest report has made it clear that there is a chasm between what we are doing to support our planet’s long-term health and what is actually required over the next decades. Furthermore, with recent ONS figures expressing those economic pressures are seeing one in three shoppers reducing their food shopping, now is the time for our sector to lead from the front.

Food and drink is not black and white. There is always hypocrisy within how our food is produced and consumed, but this should not put us off striving for the best, to deliver managed consumption that supports not only who we are as humans, but our planet too.

In a world where we must reduce our consumption and where consumers are actively buying less, we must ensure our narrative is heard. We can reshape the world of business with community at its heart, delivering the harmony our planet and humanity require… with the right leaders, that we all must become.

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