Magnificent Seven global food market alliance creates voice for innovative thinking

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Donald Hyslop, chair of Borough Market, says the alliance will help all participating markets share ideas and best practices.

London’s Borough Market recently entered into a new global alliance with six other like-minded, iconic and city-based local food markets to learn from each other at a time when logistical, environmental and social pressures are high. PBUK speaks exclusively with Donald Hyslop, chair of Borough Market, to find out how the first international partnership of its kind will make a difference for the seven markets, their traders and shoppers.

Dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (M7), the coalition comprises: Borough Market (London), La Boquería (Barcelona), Markthalle Neun (Berlin), Central Market Hall (Budapest), Sydney Fish Market, (Sydney), Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne) and Pike Place Market (Seattle). The longer-term objective is to strengthen and grow the group by inviting other global food markets to join.

“The whole alliance is about practicalities and sharing values, skills and opportunities,” Hyslop tells PBUK. “That’s how it should benefit all of the markets; by learning from each other and exchanging best practices. It’s about listening to alternative voices and ways of doing things in the food world. But it has to be organic and it has to evolve.” 

As a united front, the alliance will also speak up for the local food market scene on a global level. “The great power of a lot of these markets is that they have quite an interesting voice and an independent way of going about things,” points out Hyslop. “This is about exposing our vision and values, and speaking and arguing our case.” 

With the major challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit, coupled with new regulations relating to the globalisation of the food industry, Hyslop claims the alliance will “add more texture” to the discussion about being local and global.

“The food industry is dominated by large conglomerates who have a very corporate, global voice,” he says. “This alliance allows us to add the voice of us and our traders to those debates. It allows us to be ambassadors and advocates for the amazing produce that’s grown and produced in this country.” 

Of course, the M7 share a number of commonalities. They are globally-renowned local markets for buying and selling quality food, especially fresh produce, plus they serve as spaces where visitors and local communities can connect, share food and learn.

At the same time, these historical markets share challenges, such as the threat of urban development, new transport and infrastructure projects; the effects of pollution; and pressure from the sheer number of visitors. Added to that, there are issues surrounding security, sustainability, shorter supply chains and community engagement.

By sharing ideas, experiences and best practices, however, the founding and future members aim to address these challenges to enable the markets to continue to prosper, while maintaining the traditions of an authentic market experience for their shoppers and visitors. 

The benefits ahead

One obvious benefit of the alliance will be the chance to welcome new traders via an exchange programme. “In the past, Borough has seen La Boquería traders come in to sell their produce,” Hyslop explains. “You will see more of that happening.”

There will be more subtle benefits too, such as the markets learning from each other with regards to creating the right zoning and spaces in which their visitors can socialise.

Other improvements for shoppers and traders relate to how the members will share ideas in terms of dealing with problems around infrastructure, the environment and waste.

Already, Hyslop says Borough has started a real dialogue with some of the M7. 

“We’re all doing things that each of us can learn from,” he notes. “For example, Pike Place Market in Seattle has a brilliant way of bringing in local, small producers from Oregon state. We have a lot to learn from them.

“Borough is also doing some initial work with the Sydney Fish Market, which is going through a big change period. That involves some skill and knowledge sharing between staff.

“In a month’s time, we have a meeting with the Markthalle Neun in Berlin, which is trying out a new model based around street food, and looking at new forms of wholesale.” 

Learnings from Borough

As for the learnings Borough can share, the market underwent a huge upheaval during Network Rail’s Thameslink project, an experience that will prove useful for the Sydney Fish Market and Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, which are both going through a period of change.

Borough also can offer innovative ideas on redesigning an urban food market fit for the 21st century, whose customers are all about socialising.

“We never stop thinking about how we can use the area that we have most effectively,” says Hyslop. “After the Network Rail project, we all came back in 2013 and spent a lot of time looking at how we curate and zone the market. 

“We now have fresh food zones, and street food located in a special place. We thought about the flow of the market and created places for people to meet, sit and attend events, like cookery activities and demonstrations. We also looked at signage and brought in artists.” 

Borough has also developed The Borough Market Cookbook with more than 140 recipes. “It has hundreds of avid members,” Hyslop notes. “It was a logical thing to do; it was good for business and good for the community.”

When it comes to sustainability and the environment, Borough is keen to follow the principles of the circular economy, whereby resources are kept in use for as long as possible. 

Last year, therefore, Borough was one of the first organisations in the UK to ban single-use plastics. That has been backed up since by the introduction of free drinking water fountains on site. And, the market has been working with zero food waste charity Plan Zheroes since 2014 to re-distribute surplus produce.

Added to that, the market is looking at how it harvests rainwater to be more efficient, and going forward Borough is hoping to develop more home deliveries using electric vehicles. One of its fruit and veg wholesalers, Turnips, is already active on this front.

Another big area of focus is developing a zone within the market to pioneer a new form of wholesale – in terms of making the market much more social and educational.

“There’a big dialogue to be had about how markets should reflect the way people are living and eating because we are community assets,” Hyslop suggests.

“It’s a really exciting area of development for us. Bread Ahead [one of Borough’s traders] started with a stall. Now, they have a bakery and a school on site, and they are delivering bread sustainably across London. We’re developing that format around charcuterie and butchery – The Ginger Pig [another trader] is trying it out.” 

On a less positive note, Borough will be able to share its experience of the terror attack on 3 June 2017, which affected the London Bridge and Borough Market area.

“We’ll share our knowledge and experience – not just about what happened and how to manage it but about planning for it not to happen,” Hyslop explains, adding that since the attack, Borough’s visitor numbers have returned to normal.

“Markets by their nature are very open places where lots of people gather,” he continues. “You need a disaster plan and a recovery plan, and that includes for incidents like a fire or flood. Some traders can be just one or two people running a small business, so to be closed for a week can be catastrophic. You need continuity.”

How M7 came about

While Borough has enjoyed informal partnerships over the past 20 years with La Boquería in Barcelona and Central Market Hall in Budapest, the M7 alliance marks the first official, international coalition of its kind for local, urban food markets.

“There is a place for all the big, international wholesale markets talk to each other in the form of the the World Union of Wholesale Markets, but there hasn’t been a forum for the distinct issues that affect big, city centre, historic markets,” Hyslop points out.

“Over the past few years we realised that a number of the bigger, often historic food markets in city centres share a huge amount of the same opportunities, experiences and challenges. 

“The alliance was the right response at the right time. And, obviously, lots of other markets around the globe are in similar situations. I’ve already been contacted by others interested in aligning. It’s exciting.”

Hyslop suggests St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada, is a fairly obvious market that has the synergies to become a potential member, as well as markets in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“This is not just about aligning markets in the first world,” adds Hyslop. “There are lots of markets that are essential to communities across the world that struggle with infrastructure. Hopefully there will be a role within the M7 where we can make alliances in the third world.”

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