Wholesalers encourage communities to love local

The World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) is throwing its support behind the Love Your Local Market (LYLM) campaign (May 13-27); and encouraging wholesalers around the globe to support traders, and raise awareness of the value they offer

Seasonality is a buzzword with which foodies like to casually pepper their conversations, but inside the industry, we know of course that market traders were the original purveyors of seasonal produce, long before bloggers and food writers picked up on it and made it sound trendy.

The sharp focus on seasonal food, 12 months a year, and the knowledge of when fresh produce is at its best and from where in the world, are just two of the many advantages that market traders have to counter the on-going supermarket war that rages around them.

 “Traditionally, market traders have offered more value than a supermarket, but now with the discounters they face competition on prices for the main lines, such as tomatoes,” says Paul Walker, owner of Waldon Fruit, which is based at New Spitalfields Wholesale Market in London.

 “The quality is still there, but supermarkets like Lidl are selling bananas cheaper than even the wholesalers.”

Walker believes that across the piece, markets still offer better value but it’s tough, especially for street markets that are not just competing on price but also with the weather, as supermarkets offer a more climate friendly place to shop than traditional street markets for instance.

However, Walker adds that traders still have the advantage when it comes to seasonal produce, which is often cheaper as it’s plentiful, and the personal knowledge of how best to keep and prepare that produce.

It’s a view echoed by many wholesalers at New Spitalfields Wholesale Market, where Produce Business UK visited on the eve of the WUWM-backed launch of Love Your Local Market, to discuss the relationship between wholesalers and market traders.

Ellie Gill of Love Your Local Market firmly believes that wholesalers have a role to play beyond simply supplying produce, and that they can also help to give traders confidence and encouragement to get involved with events such as LYLM that help to raise the profile of their sector.

“They [wholesalers] are an intrinsic link to market traders, and have so much reach with them,” she says. “I’m so impressed with the level of adoption, and the support from wholesalers so far.”

During LYLM fortnight, on May 13-27, both covered and street markets around the world will be hosting events to celebrate their unique offering to the communities in which they operate.

The event has been gathering traction in the UK since its launch in 2011, thanks to the efforts of the LYLM team and the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA).

This year it goes global, with the theme ‘Markets Save, Markets Create’, and aims to highlight the role that markets play creating jobs, helping a small business to start up, and providing opportunities to buy fresh, healthy food at affordable prices.

When it comes to the food stalls, as Gill says, it’s the support of the wholesalers that makes a lot of the trading possible.

At New Spitalfields, wholesalers such as Chris Hutchinson of Arthur Hutchinson acknowledge that it’s mutually beneficial for wholesalers to support market traders in any way they can, as they are still ‘massively’ important to the business.

“We will always do whatever we can to support them,” he says. “They face some tough odds, especially with the weather because if it’s raining no one wants to shop outdoors. They need an advantage, and that’s always been price but that’s now under threat.

“The advantage they have is the personal touch. They know seasonality, when produce is eating well, and can pass on advice such as when an avocado is going to ripen.”

Hutchinson also raises the issue of the supermarket wars, which is forcing market traders to slash prices, often making little or no money on core lines in order to keep custom coming in.

Peter Durber, owner of TropiFresh, which specialises in exotics and world produce such as giant avocados from Brazil, says that even for niche markets times are tough, but he is seeing a lot of traders take on board new ideas as a result.

“I feel there’s a hidden malaise in the economy, everyone is finding it tough - even the supermarkets,” he says. “Traders have got to find ways to be attractive to customers, and it helps to have a little bit of a niche – something interesting that other retailers are not offering.”

Durber says he has seen traders varying the quantities of produce they sell, so they can offer commuters smaller sizes for on-the-go eating. By adapting to the new retail landscape he claims traders can help to keep their businesses going.

“It’s hard work for everyone, and the hours that people are putting in to just hold onto what they have are frightening,” he adds. “I do feel that niche marketing is the way forward.”

Finding new ways to attract trade is not just the concern of retail markets, but also wholesalers, which is one of the reasons WUWM is offering support for LYLM.

The organisation says it’s aware that through the sharing of information, and by promoting the importance of each sector, all traders can strengthen their business.

“[We] are already working to promote retail and wholesale markets in different ways and are desirous of sharing experience and knowledge with the intention of increasing the profile of events for the benefit of the wider markets industry,” adds a spokesman.

“This theme highlights the vital role that markets play in saving jobs, saving the environment, saving on waste, saving tradition and culture, saving food, and saving money.

“Wholesale markets have an important part to play in the campaign, with many offering promotional and marketing support of the event.”

With supermarkets continuing to clash with discounters, and fresh produce representing a prominent battleground, it’s in all traders’ interests to get the message across to customers that supporting a market means saving it for future generations.

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