Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mysterious Pulpería

My town, like most small towns in rural Latin America, has no grocery store or hardware store. We shop at pulperías. That's probably best translated as "general store." Think 7-11, except that it's owned by your neighbor and run out of her house. You can buy machetes or dried beans in bulk, but unfortunately no Taquitos.

Pulperías seem like a goofy system at first. My town of 400 has five pulperías, although two of them are limited to soda and junk food. The pulperías charge a uniform 20% markup with a few exceptions (rice, beans, oil, and flour are generally a 12% markup). Now, why would I need three convenience stores to sell canned tuna and dried beans for 10 or 20% above recommended retail prices? It's especially weird when the convenience stores don't carry the grocery items I need to buy frequently--fresh produce, for example. Why don't we centralize retail into a single grocery store in the center of town? Or, if we want to avoid a monopoly, if we don't have the scale to drive down costs, why can't we leave town every two months to buy dried goods and then shop at pulperías for produce and milk and other perishables?

Now I have a new theory. Amazon saves money over traditional retailers by keeping very little inventory in warehouses. Instead, producers manage their inventory. It's called Just-in-time inventory management. Maybe the pulpería system is similar. When you've got five or ten kids milling about your house, you can send one to the pulpería every time you need another egg or cigarette. And the pulpería will sell you a single egg for the same unit price as the kilo (yes, eggs here are by the kilo, not the dozen). Now as a housewife you don't have to tie up much money in "inventory" and you don't have to worry about storing ingredients or having them go bad. Maybe that's a more efficient way to handle shopping. And why don't pulperías carry produce? Simple--you can send your kids to buy it straight from the farmer. Unless it's a pineapple, of course. Then you can't buy it at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment