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The evolution of wholesale markets into food logistics platforms

World Union of Wholesale Markets chairman Manuel Estrada-Nora explains why terms such as ‘food complex’ and ‘food logistics platform’ better define what a modern wholesale market is.

In this interview, World Union of Wholesale Markets chairman Manuel Estrada-Nora explains why modern wholesale markets now fall into the wider concept of a food logistics platform.

How are value-added services making wholesale markets more competitive?

Many of the European wholesale markets today are what we used to call ‘3rd generation markets’. They go beyond the mere sale and purchase of fresh food. Wholesalers have the space and facilities to develop a number of activities of their business: washing, sorting, grading, cutting, packaging, ripening, storage and cold-storage, management of orders, delivery, etc. These kinds of activities – product segmentation, in short – are increasingly important at wholesale markets, as wholesalers serve not only the traditional small retailers or retail markets, but also chains of hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and hypermarkets. This is why terms such as “food complex” and “food logistics platform” better define what a modern wholesale market is. In some wholesale markets, the volume of fruits and vegetables delivered from such complementary facilities either equals or exceeds the amount traded at the pavilions for wholesaling (e.g. Mercabarna, Rungis-Paris and Padova and other Northern Italian markets, especially for exports.

How strong is food security and traceability at wholesale markets today?

European wholesale markets are a benchmark for food security and food product traceability. Food hygiene is a priority for the owners and managers of wholesale markets. The professionalism of the producers and wholesalers is nowadays a key factor of food security in our wholesale markets. Luckily, the wholesale sector of fresh products is a mature and very competitive one which sets very high quality standards for itself. The maintenance of a “brand” in fresh products and the requirements of certification also impose quality requirements on wholesale traders, importers and exporters which are sometimes even stricter than official regulations.
Not only the hygiene of the products but the hygiene of the facilities, warehouses and areas of common use is a key focus for wholesale market managers. In this context, the WUWM has developed a “Community Guide to Good Hygienic Practices”, adopted by the European Commission in late 2009 as support for the sector. In addition, unannounced official inspections of wholesale markets occur at the wholesalers’ stalls: their commercial documentation is verified and samples of their products taken for analysis. In cases of food safety alerts, wholesale markets act as an efficient and rapid point of investigation and action ensuring an efficient traceability process, determining the origin of the problem and limiting the damage.

What major issues related to fruit & vegetable are being dealt with by the WUWM?

There are a number of issues highly relevant for wholesale market managers in order to improve the service rendered to the traders: green energies, food waste and food losses reduction, waste recycling, excellence in hygiene, improvement in management models, co-operation projects with wholesalers, among others. There is a big range of issues of social relevance: the support markets lend to local farmers, public education on healthy eating, support to small and medium local/regional companies, and the impact of climate change on food markets, all of them closely related with the successes and challenges facing wholesale markets worldwide.

What can you tell us about renovation in wholesale markets?

Wholesale markets in developing countries are making very big efforts to improve their standards. And in fact, in some aspects of this management they demonstrate excellence in performance. In Mexico, Brazil and China, for instance, large investments are underway in wholesale market development.
The European wholesale market sector is more mature so many markets have been partially, or even completely, modernised and refurbished. Some have had to be relocated over the years, as they became surrounded by new urban developments. This is why you may find brand new and modern “old” wholesale markets in England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland, as well as in many other countries. You also have to bear in mind that European regulation is increasingly strict in relation to hygiene, work safety, transportation and traffic, waste management, energy efficiency, etc. Wholesale market managers are responsible for these aspects, which requires the continuous update of certain infrastructures.

How do wholesale markets differ between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ economies?

Wholesale markets are often associated with the idea of local food, local agriculture or “Km 0” production and this is correct, both for developed and developing economies. The importance of this is enormous from a socioeconomic and sustainable agriculture point of view.
The difference, in my opinion, is that in developed economies, like Europe, wholesale markets additionally absorb a large share of imported fresh products to satisfy the demand of products from other regions of the planet and of national products when off-season. Even in large producer and exporter countries, such as in southern Europe, the import of fresh fruit and vegetables via wholesale markets may represent 50% of the total.

What is happening with the ‘Love Your Local Market’ (LYLM) campaign?

‘Love Your Local Market’ was very successful in 2015, with the participation of over 2,000 food markets from 16 countries. This global campaign is effective in engendering public recognition of the role and importance of traditional markets throughout Europe and the world. I want to thank the UK WUWM member NABMA, the National Association of British Market Authorities, which in 2014 freely offered us the concept and their expertise gained from the original national campaign run in England some four years ago, so that we could run it globally and encourage markets everywhere to participate in what has now become the biggest market celebration ever seen. In 2016, we hope to further expand the campaign, with increased participation in Asia and Latin-America.

What else was a highlight in 2015 or on the agenda for 2016?

Looking back over 2015, we also enjoyed two highly interesting conferences, the first in Budapest (Hungary) in May and the other in Campinas (Sao Paulo, Brazil) in September. We also signed a formal collaboration agreement with the UN FAO which has began to show mutual benefits.
Our next international conference will be held in Lublin, Poland, in May. After the change of political system at the end of last century, Poland very quickly established an efficient network of wholesale markets throughout the country. We want to focus on the specific situation of wholesale, retail and farmers markets in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet countries. We will also pay attention to flower markets, an essential component of many food markets worldwide.

World Union of Wholesale Markets

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New project to cut food waste at Mercabarna

Food waste is in the firing line as Mercabarna commissions study on why it happens and how to reduce it within the precinct.

How to reduce food waste is the end goal of a study Mercabarna has commissioned from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and the Plataforma Aprovechamos los Alimentos (Let’s Make Use of Food Platform, PAA).

In a press release, Barcelona’s wholesale food hub said the study, expected to be completed toward the end of the year, will establish the volume and causes of food waste produced within its precinct and suggest areas of work and specific actions to reduce it to a minimum.

“This project shows our desire to keep looking for solutions that help us in the fight against food waste. The actions resulting from it will be added to those that we have been carrying out for many years, such as working with the Food Bank,” said Mercabarna managing director Josep Tejedo.

Photo courtesy of

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Mercabarna is modernising its facilities and improving air and sea connections

Fruit and vegetable exports from Mercabarna rose by 9% in the first half of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, according to data from the Catalan market.

Fruit and vegetable exports from Mercabarna rose by 9% in the first half of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, according to data from the Catalan market. Indeed, in 2014 the companies in Mercabarna’s horticultural sector sold 1.7 million tons (between the Central Market and the Complementary Activities Zone).

A successful “Mercabarna Export” cluster

The market hub in Barcelona attributes the export boom in the first half of 2015 to promotion by the Mercabarna Export cluster and presence in international fairs like Fruit Attraction and Fruit Logística, which have made Mercabarna a benchmark for suppliers around Europe. The market currently has business relationships with all corners of Europe. In 2015, the cluster has carried out studies to determine the feasibility of exporting to Algeria, the Arab Emirates and Ireland, where they have carried out direct missions that will be bolstered in 2016 “for importers interested in learning about Mercabarna,” said Josep Tejedo, director general of Mercabarna. Another relevant fact is that more and more shoppers are going directly to buy at the market, mainly from France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland and Ireland. “The ease of management, storage and transportation as well as the range, freshness and quality of the produce, allow for convenient and efficient purchases,” said Josep Tejedo.

Sea and air connections to Paris, Germany and Dubai to improve

Transportation has also become a significant aim for the Mercabarna Export cluster, which supports the rail terminal for lorries that is to be completed in 2019 on land owned by the Port of Barcelona, 2 km from Mercabarna. The first lines to be launched will be Barcelona-Paris and Barcelona-Germany. “This means of transport will lead to improved logistics efficiency and a reduction of 10% in the cost compared to road transport, along with a significant decrease in environmental impact,” said the general manager of Mercabarna. As for air transport, improvements have been made in the range and price of flights to the United Arab Emirates. In addition, working groups have been created involving large South American exporters and fruit importers from Mercabarna to optimize routes and improve logistics prices. Mercabarna has also launched the Trends Observatory in 2015 to present new business opportunities for companies located in their food hub. These include an increase in local products in the market, linked to the growing awareness about zero kilometre food and slow food.

Espai Food and Food Trade Center as of 2016

Another project in the works, which will be ready later this year or early in 2016, is the Food Trade Center, a space for the increasingly numerous foreign buyers who regularly visit these markets to supply other countries. This space will have all the services these purchasers may need for their activities, such as telecommunications, offices, meeting rooms, etc. There are also plans to launch Espai Food in 2016, an area with all the infrastructures and services necessary for Mercabarna’s companies to be able to give presentations for their products, present new recipes, tastings, etc. Finally, it is worth noting that Mercabarna intends to go a step further in its policy against wasting food. To do so, it has commissioned the Autonomous University of Barcelona to carry out a study—to be completed in late 2015—that will classify the kinds of food losses caused by the activities of all the operators that come to Mercabarna every day, and will suggest ways to reduce them. Another ongoing challenge is the modernisation of Mercabarna’s complex, which looks set to be finished in 2020. 


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Mercabarna fun run & open day a resounding success

The inaugural Mercabarna fun run attracted more than 3,000 people to Barcelona’s wholesale market on Sunday. Along with the race itself - in which 1,520 runners participated – there were a range of activities related to fresh food and designed to showcase the key role of the Mercabarna food complex, one of largest in Europe.

The inaugural Mercabarna fun run attracted more than 3,000 people to Barcelona’s wholesale market on Sunday. Along with the race itself – in which 1,520 runners participated – there were a range of activities related to fresh food and designed to showcase the key role of the Mercabarna food complex, one of the largest in Europe.

Runners passing through the Central Fish Market


Of the runners, 770 covered 5 km and 750 a 10 km route. Starting at 11am, the race took them through the central fruit and vegetables and fish markets.Though closed on a Sunday, some fruit and vegetable wholesaler stalls displayed produce to provide a taste of a typical day at the market.

And though no fish was on sale in the central fish market, loudspeakers reproduced the din usually found there when 2,000 or so buyers and sellers gather in the wee hours.

Runners collecting their numbers in one of the 7 buildings forming the Central Fruit and Vegetable Market

After the race, runners and their companions tucked into a breakfast based on sardines, sausage and fruit.

In a press release, the market authority said the visitors had been surprised at just how big the market is. Covering 900,000 m2, it shifts 2 million tons of fresh produce a year.



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China boasts more than 4,000 wholesale markets

The China Agriculture Wholesale Market Association (CAWA) has members in all provinces and municipalities. The trade volume of its member markets accounts for 70% of the national total.

China’s 20 Tier 2 cities consume about half of the country’s imported food.

There are over 4,000 wholesale markets spread across Chinese cities, but the large wholesale markets are located in western China or provincial capital cities. Chinese wholesale markets are usually comprehensive in nature, offering products ranging from vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, grains and oil, dried seasoning and flowers. Depending on the varieties of products, both domestic and imported products can be found in those markets, but domestic products account for a significant proportion. Some markets have a relatively higher percentage of imported fruits, such as the Jiangnan Market in Guangzhou with 70%-80% of its fruit from overseas. As another example, the Huizhan Market in Shanghai is entirely devoted to wholesale trade in imported fruit.

In contrast, foreign fruit accounts for just a small share of trade in other markets, usually just 20%-30%. While all the other Chinese wholesale markets sell imported fruit, not all is sourced from direct importers.

Major events in China this year

The China Agriculture Wholesale Market Association (CAWA) has members in all provinces and municipalities. The trade volume of its member markets accounts for 70% of the national total. All of the top 200 wholesale markets in China are members of CAWA. The association is holding the 8th China (Zhengzhou) International Agricultural Products Trade Fair and 2015 China (Zhengzhou) International Organic Food & Green Food Expo from November 27 to 29 this year at the International Exhibition Center in Zhengzhou city, Henan province. This event, with the theme of “Green, Health and New Normal”, will build on the success of the previous seven expos. Both domestic and overseas agro-products producers, distributors and purchasers are invited to the expo in Zhengzhou. During the Expo, CAWA will also host events including the 2015 editions of: China International Internet Plus Modern Green Agricultural Action Plan Seminar, China International Internet Plus Agro-products Brand Story Micro Film Contest, 8th China (Zhengzhou) International Agro-products Trade Fair Award Ceremony, China International Green Produce & Organic Produce Purchaser Conference, Round Table Conference on International Food Trade Cooperation, International High-quality Food Purchasing Information Session, Henan High-quality Food Purchasing Information Session.

CAWA helping promote international trade

As a member of the World Union of Wholesale Markets, CAWA actively promotes international trades in fresh agricultural products. It has cooperation agreement with over 20 government institutions and export associations in order to jointly promote international trade based on the platform of wholesale markets through regular information exchange, trade mission comprised of purchasers and participation in each other’s events. 

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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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Slow wholesale trade in fruit and vegetables in the UK last month

Wholesale trade in fruit and vegetables was slow and steady in the UK in the first half of June but picked up towards the end of the month as the weather improved, according to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Wholesale trade in fruit and vegetables was slow and steady in the UK in the first half of June but picked up towards the end of the month as the weather improved, according to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

In its report on fruit and vegetable wholesale prices for June, Defra said the amount of UK-grown produce varied as some crops were coming to the end of their season and other summer crops were coming onto the market. “Imports from the continent ensured supplies of soft fruit and salad were good across the month.”

Defra also reported:

Strawberries: demand was high but prices fell 24% to £1.85/kg as more fruit including Scottish and Dutch and Belgian imports came onto the market
Raspberries: demand was also high but the price fell 11% to £6.86/kg as supplies increased. The quality of the fruit remained high across June which stopped the price falling further

UK-grown pears: supplies continue to fall as the season comes to a close
Conference pears: prices rose 13% to 0.59/kg

Asparagus: prices continued to fall, down 18% to £5/kg
Broad beans: prices fell 37% to £1.42/kg as supplies increased and demand dwindled
Savoy cabbage: price up 25% to £0.51/head
White cabbage: price up 33% to £0.48/kg as new season crop supplies were short
Cauliflower: prices rose across the month as supplies dwindled
Leeks: prices rose as supplies were short awaiting the new season crop

source: Defra