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The evolution of London’s New Covent Garden Market

Zeenat3 - Edited

One way to find out what’s new and hot on London’s food scene is to visit New Covent Garden Market, the UK’s largest fruit, vegetable and flower market.

As Zeenat Anjari, the New Covent Garden Market Authority’s  business development manager, told ED at the London Produce Show in June, it is evolving is as an important fresh produce pantry for leading restaurants

”There’s recognition that New Covent Garden Market is the place where chefs will find that trend product, that niche product,” she said.

In terms of new fresh produce trends, Anjari said curly kale is very popular and the market has had flower sprouts – Brussels sprouts crossed with kale – in stock and now has baby kale coming through. She also mentioned a golden beetroot marketed by G’s that is “cooked and vacuum-packed just like the regular beetroot but really pretty and very bright and sweet, not too fibrous.”

“Every time you go down Buyers’ Walk there’s always some innovative product to see,” she said.

Changing use of refrigeration

Asked what else is changing, Anjari pinpointed technology, and in particular the way in which refrigeration is used, such as having smaller areas at different temperatures within a larger, fully chilled warehouse.

She said wholesalers are also pre-empting changes in food standards and health and safety laws by changing processes before it becomes a statutory requirement. “A key part of the market’s redevelopment will mean NCGM is the only market built to food ready specification as standard.”

Businesses at the market are also doing more processing that adds value to raw products. This is partly due to customer demand, such as for peeled potatoes meeting certain specifications, but also because there is the expertise in New Covent Garden Market to deliver a specific processed product.

New Covent Garden Market redevelopment

Forty years after moving to its current location in the Nine Elms area in south-west London, New Covent Garden Market is embarking on a major transformation and expansion on its 57 acre site which will include a new market of 500,000 sq ft.

Construction is due to start in earnest this summer but that of the first new fruit and vegetable market buildings won’t start until the end of 2016, with the first tenants moving to their new units in summer 2017. By the start of June, 94% of the planned fruit and vegetable market units had already been let.

Anjari said details of the “massive redevelopment” can be seen at

About New Covent Garden Market

·         200 food & flower businesses
·         has been voted #1 wholesale market in UK
·         over 200 businesses, employing over 2,500 people
·         over 350 varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables
·         40% of London’s fruit & veg eaten outside the home comes from the Market
·         thousands of tons of fresh produce delivered to the Market each day

New Covent Garden Market:
London Produce Show:

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Marco makes packing more productive and profitable

Among the hardware and software products Marco was promoting at the show were its Field Side Packing solution, which allows producer who don’t have dedicated pack houses to nevertheless meet retailers’ demand for accurately declared weights on pre-packed produce.

Fruit and vegetable pack houses with over-packing rates as high as 12% have managed to get them down to less than 1% thanks to  productivity improvement expert Marco Ltd, according to its business development coordinator Becky Hart.

Speaking to ED at London Produce Show, Hart said UK-based Marco’s pack house systems have been installed in 27 countries, including Peru, Chile, Guatemala, the US, Canada, South Africa, India and Kenya.

In the fresh produce sector they are ideal for fruit and vegetables that need to be manually packed for handling or presentation reasons.

“We supply solutions for the packing of table grapes, tomatoes, berries and all soft fruits, loose leaf salads and herbs, and all pre-packed vegetables, from mangetout to sugar snap peas to stir-fry packs and baby vegetables,” she said.

“Our systems provide comprehensive data management and visibility through the packing process. Most people pack on very basic and stand alone table top scales which do not provide any weight capture, operator performance reports or batch records. Yet if one of the biggest problems for packers is high levels of overpack (giveaway), you cannot hope to reduce it unless you are monitoring and controlling weights in each and every punnet or box.

“What our system does is make every operator accountable because you have to log into the weighing station, so immediately in a huge pack house you know exactly what everyone is doing and at what speed they’re doing it, and it also reduces the overpack massively and obviously that means you can create more punnets with the same amount of raw produce. It’s this saving that pays for the system and typically following installation we are providing an extra saleable pack in every 10. We usually see a typical return on investment (for our customers) of six months or less, or one growing season” she said.

Among the hardware and software products Marco was promoting at the show were its Field Side Packing solution, which allows producer who don’t have dedicated pack houses to nevertheless meet retailers’ demand for accurately declared weights on pre-packed produce.

The London Produce Show and Conference:

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Exploring Waitrose’s biggest store – Canary Wharf

About 15% of turnover at Waitrose’s Canary Wharf branch is from sales of fruit, vegetables, salads and flowers.

Waitrose’s three-storey, 73,000 sq ft. Canary Wharf branch is its biggest store and the one with the highest sales.

Officially a ‘Food, Fashion & Home’ store, it also has one of the biggest fruit and vegetable sections of all Waitrose branches. About 15% of the store’s turnover is from sales of fruit, vegetables, salads and flowers.

ED toured this Waitrose flagship store in early June as part of the London Produce Show and spoke to Buying Manager for fruit Jocelyn Clarke and Department Manager Anselm Colom.

Clarke said Waitrose is doing particularly well in produce, highlighting that while the retailer holds about a 5% share of the UK grocery market overall, its market share for fresh produce is higher, typically around 8%. “In terms of location we’ve got the best of all worlds here,” Colom told ED about the Canary Wharf branch, “we’ve got many customers who do a big shop, and hundreds of thousands who do small top-up shops, we’ve got people passing by, local residents, workers, people travelling into London – all sorts of different demographics.

“Our biggest challenge is physically trying to stock all the shelves all the time – it’s absolutely relentless but a nice problem to have.”

A big focus on fresh produce

Fresh produce is one of 13 sections in the store and includes the food-to-go offering. Clarke said there is saying in retail that if you don’t get produce right then customers go no further. At Canary Wharf, the fruit and vegetables section sits at the front of the store and there is a big focus on it, she said.

There are typically two layouts for the fruit and vegetable section – a summer and a winter one. The summer layout started in mid-April with soft fruit moved to the front, apples and citrus cut back a little and moved to the back, and more space for exotic and stone fruit and less for vegetables. “But we wouldn’t dream of moving potatoes, bananas or salads, they stay where they are all the time,” Colom said.

The top sellers: berries and citrus

Clarke said that over the course of a year, the branch’s top sellers are berries but at Christmas, citrus is the clear-cut best seller, as in the UK it is traditional to include some in Christmas stockings. The UK, Spain and South Africa are the main sources of the fruit in the store.

The berries cooler, located on the right at the very front of the store over summer, was rarely without a customer during ED’s visit and is replenished several times during open hours. Clarke said there is still a lot of opportunity to expand sales of berries – particularly blueberries – as the household penetration of this product is still relatively low.

Organic produce has small but loyal customer following

Organic produce accounted for 5-6% of total produce sales in the week ED visited. Colom said it used to generally be a bit higher but some weeks can still get up to about 12%.

Waitrose has a high market share in organic which is going from strength to strength. The new Waitrose Duchy Organic design was seen in store on berries. Clarke said this design would be seen on other fruits in the coming weeks.

Private labels and provenance

While private label – also known as own brand – products account for about 45% of Waitrose products overall, in the case of fresh produce this soars to 90-95%. Some brands are seen in salads, then there is also co-branding of Waitrose and Pink Lady, which sells well. Otherwise it is all about the Waitrose brand

Clarke said that Waitrose branches in country locations do see interest in local produce, as do stores in Scotland, such as for Scottish-grown strawberries.

Grapes must have crunch, texture, flavour

At the time of speaking to ED, Colom said the grapes on the branch’s shelves included the black seedless Sweet Sapphire, seedless white grapes including Sugraone and Prime,  and Early Sweet, and in red seedless, Flame.

“We look for crunch, great texture and really great flavour – a lot of aromas and sweet/acid balance,” Clarke said. “Cotton Candy was a good seller last year and we’re going to do more of it this year. Sable’s done exceptionally well and Italia is very popular.” She said Waitrose mainly sells seedless grapes, typical of the UK market. It doesn’t sell Red Globe and stocks only a couple of seeded varieties over the course of a year.

Fully automatic ordering

Colom said Waitrose uses an elaborate algorithm-based ordering system based at its head office so people in positions such as his no longer do ordering. The system factors in weather data, sales history, demand, space at a branch, and so on and “works out what we can sell for every single product.”

His priority is to ensure the stock thus ordered indeed reaches the store shelves. “It’s critical to do an off-sale check before we start in the morning, so we know what don’t have.” Also, given the short shelf life of fruit and vegetables, date rotation and quality are critical. “We do quality checks all the time.”

Much attention is also paid to ensuring the country of origin is on the ticket for each item, a legal requirement, “that’s absolutely critical,” he said.

Continuous replenishment

Most of the stock comes into the branch at night. Three deliveries of fruit and vegetables take place then, and another mid-afternoon, as well as 3 ambient deliveries, and various other special and additional deliveries.

A maximum of about 7-8 people in total work in Colom’s Fresh produce section at one time and while the shelves are filled through the night, during open hours they spend most of the time replenishing stock.

Colom said he is proud of the quality of the produce on the shelves and, in particular, of the deep knowledge of some of the partners (staff) on the section, such as on the different fruit and vegetable seasons. If you want to know about new Jersey potatoes in late April/early May, British asparagus in May, strawberries in June, certain apples in June and July, and so on – look for the person wearing the ‘fruit, veg & flowers specialist’ apron.

London Produce Show:
Read more about Waitrose in our article: Waitrose banks on omnichannel strategy



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Laser Food & JBT bring cutting-edge laser labelling technology to UK

Spanish fresh produce technology specialist Laser Food, together with US partner JBT Corporation, made their first major appearance on UK shores at the London Produce Show.

Spanish fresh produce technology specialist Laser Food, together with US partner JBT Corporation, made their first major appearance on UK shores at the London Produce Show.

Held June 3-5 at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, the show was a key opportunity to explain to leading members of the fresh produce sector why Laser MarkTM can be an effective alternative to traditional fresh produce labels.

Laser Food’s head of international business development, Stephane Merit, said: “The UK is a major consumer of fresh fruits and vegetables in Europe and it is also a very demanding market that wants quality and is ready to pay for it.”

Merit said the UK is a perfect target for the technology as laser labelling is a way to add value to fresh produce and help retailers reduce their carbon footprint. The reduction in carbon footprint, which can be delivered by the paper-free technology, also fits well with consumer – and therefore retailer – awareness and concern about environmental issues.

With the London Produce Show consolidating its position as a major meeting place between UK retailers and producers of fresh fruits and vegetables worldwide, Merit said it offered Laser Food and JBT a great opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of laser-labelled fresh produce.

“Maintaining a constant dialogue with the major UK retailers is key because we know they are the ones who set trends and are looking for new products, new technologies and new ways of satisfying their customers’ needs.”

Based in Valencia, Spain, Laser Food originally developed the laser labelling technology between 2010 and 2013 as part of its Laser MarkTM research project, which was 50% funded by the European Union.

The technology, which can be applied to almost any type of fresh produce, uses EU-approved compounds that do not damage the fruit surface or interior, while maintaining the commercial value of the product. The materials used in the process were legally approved by the EU for pomegranates, melons and citrus in June 2013.

As well as being able to write brand names directly onto fruit, the system allows growers and retailers to add QR matrix codes to product surfaces, offering greater traceability.

Laser Food and JBT Corporation tailor their services to the individual needs of each client, and are currently supporting customers in Italy, France, Poland and the UK. JBT Corporation is a leading global supplier of integrated solutions for the fresh produce sector.