A parallel exists between the economic development of a country and the evolution of its food trade channels. This generic affirmation is certainly applicable in the case of wholesale food markets. History shows us that the evolutionary process of markets (both wholesale and retail) has relevance to global economic development.
For many years, fresh food wholesale markets have been making great efforts to accompany and support wholesale traders in their evolution, growth and diversification. As a result, wholesale markets have substantially increased their complementary activities, making them facilities that exist beyond the mere sale and purchase of products – instead becoming entities that add value to product: preparation, packaging, transformation, storage, freezing, transport and export. Hence the term “wholesale market” has become too narrow a description, instead wholesale markets have become ‘food logistics platforms’.
At present, in the second decade of the 21st century, the challenges facing European wholesale markets are not exactly the same as those that gave origin to their former constitution. European wholesale markets are, nowadays, a mature sector. They operate in a commercial environment with a much-consolidated self-service sector. Wholesale businesses have experienced significant concentration processes in recent decades and, at present, wholesale food companies operating at our markets are extremely competitive. Wholesalers are often undertaking vertical integration, becoming producers and/or retailers in the process.
Modern European wholesale markets are moving closer to excellence in management. It is now usual to find an increasing offer of III, IV and V range products (frozen, fresh packed in controlled atmosphere, and cooked or pre-cooked) much in demand by the horeca and catering sectors; there is an increasing offering of organic products; some of them have efficient grower markets with an excellent quality of product; and many others are, commendably, environmentally responsible – reaching a very high percentage of recycled waste and/or energy efficiency. Some others organise trade missions with their wholesalers to open new markets abroad, while many others are actively helping food banks and other important public charity initiatives.
A significant number of aims for the different General Directorates of the European Union find alliance with the wholesale market sector – whether in the areas of Rural Agriculture and Development, Competition, Enterprise and Industry, or Health and Consumer Protection, for example. The market role in the food supply chain supports the promotion of sustainable development in European agriculture; markets also increase agricultural productivity; they ensure fair standards of living for the agricultural community; they stabilise market supply and demand; promote greater transparency along the food chain, more efficient pricing and buyer power; and they enhance the bargaining power of producers, while supporting healthy eating, local food consumption, smes, self-employment, the economic integration of immigrants and reduction of food losses and food waste, among many other things.
The European Regional Working Group within the World Union of Wholesale Markets is an entity called ‘European Food Markets’ and it exists to raise awareness of the role of the wholesale (and retail) market sector in Europe, and to promote their importance to the long-term wellbeing of local economies and communities, while also helping wholesalers improve their business.
Manuel Estrada-Nora has held the position of WUWM chairman since May 2013