Over 160 delegates from more than 20 countries have converged on Melbourne for the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) Congress.
The week-long event got underway on Monday evening with a welcome reception at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle helped open proceedings by highlighting the valuable role the market system plays in his city, while guests also took the opportunity to get up close and personal with some Australian wildlife.
Delegates were up before dawn on Tuesday for a tour of Melbourne’s wholesale market in Epping, which was followed by a visit to the Queen Victoria Market, a retail market in the city’s CBD.
WUWM chairman Dr Donald Darnall said the integration of the two market streams was a first for the congress.
“This year’s event has epitomised why wholesale and retail markets should be working together,” Darnall said. “The organisers have set up a fantastic programme, that highlights that we are one and the same.”
Still a place for retail
The congress moved to conference mode on Tuesday afternoon, with Colin McLeod from Melbourne University looking at the changing business of markets.
During the final session of the day, delegates heard that retail markets still have an essential role to play in the future of the fresh food system, despite the rise of online sales channels.
Asked what the future holds for the retail market, key figures representing Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, Pike Place Market in Seattle and Borough Markets in London gave a resoundingly positive response.
“I am eternally optimistic,” said Donald Hyslop, chair of trustees at Borough Markets, London’s oldest food market. “The tools and ingredients we have are more relevant than ever, and with the right use of technology and innovation for the future, we can remain central to communities around food issues.”
China goes wholesale
The conference programme continued on Wednesday, with Australia Post general manager Rebecca Burrows providing an insight into how new technologies have accelerated the supply chain speed at Australasia’s largest logistics company.
Later in the day, Dr Hong Lan highlighted the enormous growth of the wholesale market sector in China over the past 40 years, using Beijing’s Xinfadi Market as a case study. Starting with a 1ha site and 15 staff in 1988, Xinfadi now sprawls across 200ha, with some 60,000 people either working at or visiting the site every day.
Despite the rapid growth, Lan said Xinfadi and a large number of other Chinese markets faced challenges around transport congestion, aging infrastructure and securing nearby land for expansion.
Telstra retail industry executive Gareth Jude concluded the conference component of the congress with an insightful look at digital disruption within the retail sector.
Jude pointed to the role smartphone technology has played in shifting the dynamics of the retail environment. While knowledge of retail products was once passed down through the supply chain – providing power to “suppliers rather than retailers, and retailers rather than suppliers” – Jude said the information rich environment that can now be accessed at one’s finger tips anytime, anywhere, means consumers often have more knowledge of a product than those selling it to them.
The shift in this balance has helped accelerate the growth of e-commerce, as consumers can skip intermediaries in favour of dealing directly with suppliers, often at a reduced rate.
However, Jude said all was not lost for the bricks and mortar retail sector, with outlets that can provide an experience to shoppers, rather than just a transaction, likely to succeed. Highlighting the philosophy of Rick J. Caruso – the man who built, owns, and operates The Grove shopping complex in Los Angeles – Jude told delegates “if you build somewhere people want to be, they will shop.”
The congress now moves to Sydney, where delegates will enjoy a tour of both the Sydney Markets and Paddy’s Market on Friday morning, before embarking on a cruise around the picturesque Sydney Harbour.