With The London Produce Show and Conference taking place in two months on 6-8 June, PBUK speaks with Jan Hutchinson, chief executive officer of Spitalfields Market Tenants' Association, to gain a sneak preview of the event’s forthcoming Wholesale Market Tour, which will depart bright and early on 8 June to New Spitalfields Market in Leyton, East London.
Q: Jan, you’re organising this year’s London Produce Show and Conference Wholesale Market Tour. Can you give us a brief overview of the market to put the tour into context?
A: We’re a 32-acre site overall. The market pavilion is the size of six international football pitches, and houses over 100 independent businesses of all shapes and sizes in terms of their nature and how they operate. Trading is strong, the market is vibrant and positive change has created strong relationships between all market interests.
What’s the significance of New Spitalfields on the UK wholesale market scene?
A: Well, at the beginning of this year, we were named the Best Wholesale Market at The Great British Market Awards 2018. This is organised by NABMA [the National Association of British Market Authorities] and celebrates excellence in retail and wholesale markets across the UK. We were recognised for working closely as tenants with our landlords, and for a continual range of infrastructure upgrades, including initiatives around environmental management (i.e. waste recycling), health and safety and accident reduction.
Q: What’s the purpose of the LPS18 tour to New Spitalfields Market?
A: The message we want to get across is how global we are when it comes to fresh produce. One of our catchphrases is: ‘The World Under One Roof’; if a product is in season, viable and in demand, then it’ll be sold though this market. Delegates will see a wide variety of products that they’re not going to see on a supermarket shelf. For example, we handle a lot of crosses of fruit varieties, like the kiwiberry, and there are always unusual products coming from Asia, China, South America or the Caribbean.
Q: What can LPS18 delegates expect from this year’s tour?
A: We’ll get everyone here as early as we can because trade starts early. We’ll tour the market pavilion to visit our fruit and veg wholesalers to see the scale of the produce on offer, the quality and what’s available – bearing in mind that they’ll be at the tail end of their trading, which takes place overnight. We’ll chat to various wholesalers who will explain how they operate and what they do.
Q: What other aspects of the market will they visit?
A: From there, we’ll switch over to the catering supply companies at New Spitalfields, which operate slightly differently. We’ll give delegates an overview of what happens with those companies and how they use the market to purchase and break down their orders for redistribution.
Q: Will there be a chance to ask questions?
A: Yes, at the end of the tour we’ll provide a breakfast with a question-and-answer session where the topics up for discussion depend on the nature of the delegates. In the last couple of years, we’ve had quite a good mix of international and national visitors, including people from other wholesale markets and people running businesses in the UK that could potentially be future customers.
Q: For those that have been on the tour before, will there be anything new this year?
A: The tour is a tried-and-tested approach as we’re restricted by health and safety regulations. But we do try to vary the tenants that we speak with so delegates get an overall impression of the market. Also, it’s a case of what products are in supply at the time of the visit, and the tenants that are available. Visitors can always speak to tenants privately after the tour too.
Q: So, you can help delegates make contact with specific traders of interest?
A: Absolutely. Just let us know if you have any specific requirements or interests. We know people on the tour are here essentially to create potential business contacts, so we do try to facilitate that. For example, if a delegate has a specific interest in meeting a trader or seeing products from their home country – provided it’s available at that time – we can link them up with the related tenants.
Q: What can delegates expect to see fresh produce-wise?
A: Where do you start? By the time they come, the market will be in full flow. In June, we’ll be approaching the peak of the domestic season; we’ll have the tail end of British asparagus supplies, and, subject to the weather, we’ll have UK-grown strawberries. That’s offset against Southern Hemisphere produce that may still be coming into the UK. We also have one flower wholesaler who deserves a mention. But really, it’s a seasonal range in terms of what delegates will see.
Q: Are you experiencing any interesting, new trends at New Spitalfields Market?
A: Packaging is often a trend that changes in terms of how our tenants re-package and present their product lines, and there’s a big emphasis on plastics in the press at the moment. There are a lot of products that are sold in punnets, like soft fruit and peaches. But with all press against plastic packaging, it’ll be interesting to see what direction it goes in as a result.
Q: What do you think makes the Wholesale Market Tour appealing to LPS attendees?
A: Definitely the people in the market. They are the characters and they are the ones who entertain and talk to the visitors. They’re salesmen, after all! And, they are passionate about what they do. My job is to welcome the delegates and to provide a brief overview of the market and how it works. Then it’s over to the tenants who have the knowledge about the market and their product lines.
Q: What feedback have you had in the past?
A: It’s always very positive and the delegates thoroughly enjoy it. At the end of a tour I usually hear the word ‘vibrant’ from somebody. Everyone always says how interesting and busy the market is. The place has a buzz about it and it certainly will have in June – there will be customers buzzing about, and tenants loading up, selling or rotating stock.
The market never ceases to amaze people in terms of the scale of the produce, the quantity and the turnaround time. You have to remember that our tenants receive deliveries by midnight and they’re virtually sold out by 8 o’clock in the morning. But you’ll always see produce here; there are always deliveries coming in.
Q: Why should delegates choose the Wholesale Tour?
A: The Wholesale Tour is different and diverse. You’ll see another link in the chain of produce. It’s an overnight culture that a lot of people don’t experience. And, again, it’s those people and their personalities that make it what it is.
Q: The wholesale market is still thriving in the UK. How important is it for suppliers and buyers to consider wholesale as a sales avenue?
A: It definitely has to be considered. Throughout the UK, the combined turnover figures for wholesale markets is huge. The statistics are still very strong. The trade is always going to need that element of supply outside of the supermarkets and the big foodservice operators. London itself – let alone the UK – has so many independent businesses and SMEs (restaurants, cafés etc.). They all need a source of supply, and New Spitalfields, along with other markets, is that source of supply. If those businesses lose that, the quality and the variety will begin to disappear. Even new players like Amazon, etc., still don’t seem to be able to compete with the wholesale market. There’ll be a place for wholesalers whilst you’ve still got independents, demand for high quality produce and restaurants looking for something new or different.
Q: What are the quality standards of produce at New Spitalfields?
A: There’s always been first-class quality produce, and that represents the vast majority of supply here. Likewise, there are businesses that deal with Category 2 or Category 3 produce because that’s their niche. They supply the companies that use lower-grade produce for purées and chutneys, or for the street markets, and, again, that element of the market is essential. There’s a lower-income bracket that needs to be served and can be served quite easily by a market like New Spitalfields. You’ve got all ends of the scale being served here.
Q: What do you hope delegates will learn from the tour?
A: An insight into how a wholesale market can operate and the level of business that is done. We quietly tick away outside a lot of statistics that are quoted, but we’re there and we contribute in a big way to the industry. Collectively, the wholesale market is one of those industries that is silently successful and very much part of the overall tonnage of produce that’s sold in the UK.
Q: New Spitalfields Market is also exhibiting at The London Produce Show and Conference 2018. What are you aiming to achieve?
A: It’s about meeting people, talking about what we do and listening to why they are interested. It often gives you another avenue of thought with regards to potential customers. LPS has always been a very successful show, and it’s improved year on year. We’re hoping to have a slightly different stand in 2018, and one of our tenants will be putting up a nice display of produce.
Q: Are you looking for new suppliers or prospective buyers?
A: A bit of both. It’s all about building up the profile of the market. I represent New Spitalfields and I will point anyone that’s interested in the right direction in terms of which companies to contact. I think suppliers invariably are pretty strong; it’s the customer base that always needs to be strengthened at any time.
Q: Which tenants will be coming from the market?
A: Nearer the time we’ll find out who is coming. Those tenants that can come, do attend but obviously it’s one of the busiest times of the year. Otherwise, I’m there to introduce suppliers or buyers to anyone who could be a future potential business partner at New Spitalfields.
Q: Lastly, what’s your advice for anyone coming on the Wholesale Tour?
A: Wear comfy shoes and warm clothes.
If you’re already registered, you can edit your registration to add the Wholesale Market Tour, or contact us here.
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Join us in London on 6-8 June!