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VM inspiration: Mercat La Boqueria in Barcelona

There is just something profoundly beautiful in the work of the stallholders at Barcelona’s famous market, adjacent to the Ramblas. Whether it is an innate flair for display, or a carefully-learned sales technique gleaned by emulating the best efforts of their competitors, the retailers here are certainly masters of visual merchandising.

The choice of containers for merchandise is not uniform but pleasingly uniform enough: simple trays uniformly covered in foil, grouped together, and adjacent to a group of wicker trays with giant lollipops of candy laid neatly across the top.

This stall-holder has a neat array of bright candy colours, making lime-green frogs jump next to turquoise stones. A neat pile of small cola bottle jellied sweets in the mid-ground echoes a large row of cola sweets in the foreground. Notice how the neat long rows of candy divide the small piles, giving order to this very colourful and appealing display?

On one of the many fruit stalls neatly piled fruit rises in architectural masses in the background, while the foreground is filled with ice-chilled smoothies. It all suggests to the customer how they might enjoy the fruit.

A close-up of this fruit stall shows the care with which the fruit is displayed. Each apple, orange, or plum sits on a green leaf which neatly enhances the contrast colour of the fruit, provides a cool relief to the eye, and makes the produce appear fresher and more appealing. The regimented labels, amassed behind an army of black straws, explain possible smoothie combinations. Note additional labels are tucked almost beneath the fruit, so that their impact is lessened, allowing the fruit to take centre stage.

On the butcher’s stand a combination of pre-packed sliced meats in the chill cabinet below contrasts with whole salamis and hams hung above. While pre-slicing might be a more functional means of selecting salami and sausages for time-short customers the sealed packets are not as evocative as the sliced-to-order traditions of the past. Here the stall-holder manages to combine efficiency with nostalgic aesthetics by offering both. Notice how the labels at the front of the glass cabinet above the pre-packed display are neatly uniform, whereas the ones on the whole hams and salamis hung in groups above are more expressively angled and coloured? The impression conveyed is of ordered exuberance and specialist knowledge of the merchandise.

On a similar stall we see black labels with reversed out yellow text in the cabinets below, and white labels with black text on the salamis above. A nice change, which avoids boring uniformity, but connotes order.

In super detail, at this stall volume and repetition convey the same effect that they do in all retailing displays: the quantity of merchandise denotes popularity. Lots of hams visually suggest the message ‘everyone loves hams…’

On to the fungi stall we see uniform use of clear plastic containers, which I have grown to hate when I see them outside UK greengrocers. But they don’t look out of place when used for mushrooms. Perhaps the abundance with which the containers are filled obviates the utilitarian nature of the clear plastic? These containers just look a whole lot sadder when containing just two apples or a single orange. The chalked-up prices lend a retro touch, with the immediacy of the hand-written number suggesting market change due to supply and freshness too.

Subtle colour grouping, which also denotes type, rings the changes for the display too.

A lovely close-up inviting comparison and contrast for the freshest and the best.

Surrounding an egg display with straw conveys a ‘just-laid this morning’ impression, with a display of painted eggs hung from the roof of the stall providing a little colour. I love that the prices are written on ostrich eggs: how appropriate and in keeping with the repeated oval shape of the product. The rag-doll hen perched in the wicker basket suggests farmyard-fresh produce and neatly distinguishes this egg stall from its competitors.

Notice how the wicker baskets of eggs are arranged all on the right, the less expensive eggs in open piles to the left? As we read from left to right, so we tend to look. The stall-holder has placed the eggs she is likely to sell most on to the left side, where the customer will see them first.

On this stall of sugar and chocolate-coated nuts, all the merchandise is uniformly arranged on gold foil in brimming baskets. Neat labeling is informative, but not obtrusive, and a few casually placed scoops invite customers to place their order. While sugar-coated almonds are a gift and keepsake for those attending weddings I’m sure that, with a perpetual swirl of overseas visitors to Barcelona, these candy stalls do very well with tourists treating themselves.

This candy stall specialises in jellied fruits and marzipan shapes. Observe the organisation of the display: marzipan fruits are displayed together front left and the more unusual marzipan shapes – such as sushi, hotdogs and McDonald’s fries - are to the centre. The jellied fruits at the back are arranged by alternating colour with a pleasing change to the placement of the uniform baskets, which adds a little complexity whilst not detracting from the display.

On this delicious stall of chocolates and macaroons merchandise is arranged in product groups but broken up with the odd unusual item. See the chocolate Halloween pumpkin groups, located just behind the chocolate cigars and to the left of the nipples of Venus. And to finish, a subtle, sable colour palette of nuts and fudge, arrayed in wicket trays with neat hand-scripted labels.

Excellent everyday practice by the stall-holders and well worth a visit, as is all of Barcelona, if you haven’t been there yet.

Images by John Bednall