When New Balance entered the barefoot shoe market in 2011 they did so with the New Balance Minimus MT10 trail shoe with a 4mm heel drop. The shoe proved very popular but there was a clamour of requests from customers saying great shoe but when are New Balance going to come out with a zero drop shoe? As if by magic not one but two zero drop shoes arrived early this year with the MR00 and MT00. So you would reasonably think that the demand from the market is for zero drop shoes?
Well that is what I would have thought. But actually in the UK the 4mm drop shoes have seriously outsold the zero drop shoes in the UK. The MT10 is the king! Looking forward to 2013 New Balance will be filling out the 4mm drop range with new products and more colours. The zero drop range for the UK will become more limited with fewer colours. So in 2013 the New Balance Minimus range for the UK will be 4mm drop and trail running focused.
So what does this tell you about the state of the UK barefoot market? In my opinion three things:
- Retailers in the UK are very cautious of barefoot and have proved reluctant to take zero drop shoes. They see 4mm as a compromise they can live with as it represents less of a threat to their traditional cushioned shoe sales
- Consumers have been convinced that transitioning to barefoot should be approached cautiously (true) and that a 4mm heel drop is a safer option (not my opinion)
- Barefoot seems to be associated more with trail running than road running. Vibram FiveFingers seem to have got the same message and are introducing more trail focused shoes later this year with grippy soles and water resistance. Merrell bought out a Road Glove but the Trail Glove continues to be where the volume is. Maybe people feel that the trail is soft so better suited to barefoot running but I find road is the best place to learn.
I would assume that many readers of this blog are serious barefoot runners and are more interested in zero drop shoes. I also assume that you have junked your conventional cushioned shoes and use barefoot shoes to run on roads as well as trail. Many of you who I have spoken to have two different zero drop shoes to be able to do both. But I think it is interesting that as barefoot running moves nearer to mainstream the concept runs the risk of getting a bit diluted to suit the mass market. New Balance are a large successful shoe company and their New Balance Minimus range will evolve to suit the needs of the volume market.