Holding Their Own: Bali’s Traditional Markets Remain Robust

Carla Albertí de la Rosa examines the growth of Western-style shopping in Bali, nowadays catering not only to foreigners but also attracting growing local custom

The explosion of Western-style shopping in Bali over the last decade has shifted some consumers’ shopping patterns from traditional markets, where they used to purchase all their food and other daily goods, to modern markets where they can find a wider range of products.

But the traditional market – the pasar – still plays an important role as a marketing place for the Balinese and attracts buyers despite the fierce competition.

Mainstay: Badung Market is the island’s biggest.

The latest available figures from the Department of Industry and Trade in Bali show that in 2007 there were 138 modern markets – 96 percent of them mini-markets – in Denpasar compared to 47 traditional markets in the city.

By contrast, rural areas are much as they’ve always been. In Karangasem, for example, Bali’s easternmost and poorest regency, there were only two supermarkets compared to 20 traditional markets.

Bali’s total number of supermarkets in 2007 was 347 compared to 208 traditional markets, and this number has risen over the past three years in line with the island’s development.

Modernisation and market liberalisation have led to the boom in modern supermarkets in urban areas, ranging from the burgeoning number of mini-markets to big complexes such as the French supermarket giant Carrefour and Hypermarket.

The shortage of parking spaces, inadequate circulation space and lack of hygiene at some traditional markets are some of the factors influencing the number of local people to switch to modern supermarkets, where as well as parking they can also find a wide range of products unavailable at traditional markets.

Made Adi Wiyono, 34, buys most of his groceries as well as clothes to sell at his fashion shop in Denpasar at Badung Market, the city’s main market. He also buys often in Semarapura, at Klungkung Market.

But like many, he cannot find all products in traditional markets and goes at least once a week to any of the supermarkets in Denpasar to buy frozen food. 

“At home we eat a lot of frozen chicken but we can’t find it in the traditional markets, which don’t have refrigerators,” he said.

Dairy products such as cheese and yogurts are scarce at traditional markets, where they only sell processed cheese that doesn’t need to be chilled. “We sometimes go to the supermarket to buy certain products because there is more variety, but most things, such as fruit, vegetables, rice or meat, are still much cheaper at the traditional market,” he said.

But not all fruit is cheaper at traditional markets. Yani Hardiani, 33, who usually buys at a local market in Gunung Lumut near her house in Kerobokan, says products that are imported are less costly at big supermarkets.

“I always buy green grapes at Carrefour because half a kilo costs around Rp24,000 (US$2.65) compared to Rp30,000 ($3.30) at my local traditional market and imported apples are also cheaper at the supermarket,” she said.

She buys cosmetics such as makeup or shampoo at modern markets and many times ends up shopping for more items at the same location for convenience. “I’m so busy with work and hardly have time for anything, so I find it easier to do my shopping at the same place,” she said. “It’s also a lot cleaner in supermarkets.”

But Bali’s cultural tradition rooted in its predominant Hindu religion plays a big role in the continuance of its traditional markets. The head of Denpasar’s 16 main traditional markets, I Made Westra, said most locals buy at traditional markets because prices are much lower and there are items there that are not available at modern markets.

“Cultural things for the celebration of Hindu ceremonies can only be found in traditional markets and while many big supermarkets go bankrupt, it doesn’t happen with traditional markets,” he said.

Traditional markets that open at 5am compared to most supermarkets that open at 9am also attract many locals, and although hundreds of supermarkets have opened in Bali, Westra expressed no concern over emerging competitors.

“I’m not afraid about the future of traditional markets, and even with the increase in supermarkets the parking area at Badung Market is always full, with an increase in vendors in the past few years.”

Around 19,000 people visit the 16 markets every day, where there are 7,470 active stalls out of a total of 8,538 stalls, Westra said. 

But some sellers have noticed this shift towards modern markets. Made Susun has a small stall that mainly sells salt and oil at Badung Market since 1995 and blames supermarkets for declining customer numbers in recent years.

“There are so many supermarkets in Denpasar now, almost on every corner, and people prefer to buy there because it might be closer to their homes, even if they have to pay higher prices,” she said.

For other sellers, such as Jero Melati, 52, who has been selling fresh fish at Badung Market for 10 years, there has been an increase in customers, especially those who buy fish and vegetables at the traditional market because it’s much cheaper.

“Even big supermarkets buy fish from us to sell it at their stores, so we are not affected at all by the proliferation of modern markets. If anything, we have benefited,” she said.

Additional reporting by Ashtra Effendy
Filed under: LIFE

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