Satchelnomics: Cafe society props up sales

On Wednesday afternoon, wearing a long summery frock, Jo Cooper, 34, wafts into the the Sourced Grocer in Teneriffe, Brisbane, where she's greeted warmly by name, places her order and happily waits for friend Julie to take a break. 

"This place has the feel but it also has good coffee," says the Sydney expat, singer/song-writer and radio intern. "I like quirky places, but if I go there and they have bad coffee, I won't go there again. I'm very critical. This, to me, has it all; the feel, the friendliness, the community but also the coffee. I come here with my stuff and sit here in the afternoon."

The Sourced Grocer is one of the many businesses to benefit from Australians' predilection for restaurants, cafes and takeaway foods, which helped to lift spending levels in January. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the sector increased sales by 0.4 per cent in the first month of the year (a seasonally adjusted lift of 4.3 per cent and 7 per cent over the year), with cafes, restaurants and catering services attracting more dollars (up 0.4 per cent; or 6.6 per cent seasonally adjusted) than takeaway food services (up 0.2 per cent/1.4 per cent). 

"Despite the unseasonably wet weather in the eastern states in January, it seems caffeine was still in high demand," HSBC’s chief economist, Paul Bloxham, told The Australian

The sector helped to counteract sales in other lagging sectors, including household goods (down 1.8 per cent, seasonally adjusted; notably, Harvey Norman's profits were down 6 per cent in the six months to January); electronics (down 1.7 per cent thanks in part to smaller retailer margins, with Dick Smith on the cusp of disappearing); and department stores (down 0.2 per cent). According to the Bureau, total retail sales rose 0.3 per cent in January after a stagnant December in relative terms.

On the fashion front, clothing retailing grew 1 per cent in January and footwear and other personal accessory retailing rose 1.2 per cent, but the seasonally adjusted estimates show clothing retail fell 0.9 per cent while footwear and other personal accessory retailing grew 1.7 per cent. However, we bought more pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries (up 1.2 per cent) and newspaper and book retailing grew 0.1 per cent.

With the National Australia Bank's inaugural Online Retail Sales Index suggesting online sales are still far, far away from eclipsing what we spend in stores (only 4.9 per cent of transactions are happening online; ergo, 95 per cent of sales are still made in bricks-and-mortar places), but with clothing and electronics looking decidedly glum, the foodie sector might just help to prop up a sagging retail environment at a time when we still like to meet people in person for coffee and tea (albeit after teeing up said meetings via Facebook). 

This is good news for employees like friendly Liza, 21, who works at the Sourced Grocer casually when she's not interning as an events coordinator at 4ZZZ and hosting her Sunday night 'Weeds and Wildflowers' radio program. "No one's really here full-time, just kind of for shifts," she says.

The little hub of organic goodness that is Sourced Grocer, which opened in May last year to rapturous online applause (a Google search reveals many a blog review and it has 877 Facebook friends), the Sourced Grocer typifies what urban Aussies have come to love about cafe culture: al fresco dining, wholesome food (direct from the growers), top-notch coffee (Fifth Battery House blend), friendly faces (owners Jerome Batten and Louis Joseph and their team of vibrant young baristas and till workers) and something nice to take away (a selection of locally sourced organic produce, pastries, condiments and cheeses).  

And what better summertime activity than to don a new frock and take one's newspaper and book to a favourite cafe nook?

Girl With a Satchel