As the council considers the future of Birmingham wholesale markets, the concept of a London Food Hub has been put forward by the London Development Authority and a similar proposal is being considered by Manchester to “enhance prospects and critical mass”.

Ten years ago Nicholas Saphir of OMSCo was commissioned by DEFRA to write a report into the future of UK wholesale. Michael Barker (FPJ) recalls one recommendation – that London needs a big composite market selling meat, fish, fruit and veg all under one roof.

Advocates claim it is a vital progression for food procurement in the capital and critics say it is either unnecessary or politically unworkable.

Points made in the Saphir report:

  • Raw material supplies for small catering establishments are better procured in a transparent market place where cash and carry opportunities and choice of daily comparisons between suppliers make scale of purchasing power less of a disadvantage.
  • If well managed for the future a composite wholesale market could play a major role in reducing traffic congestion, pollution and fuel consumption by improving the distribution of food to central London’s catering establishments.
  • Restaurants are an essential component of the tourist industry. There is no option for them to relocate out of central London. To force them, either directly or through their suppliers, to pay taxation or charges aimed at reducing congestion will only be of benefit if it results in consolidation of distribution rather than a reduction in their profit margins. Consolidated and composite wholesale markets would be well placed to take up the challenge.
  • Consolidation should enable more economic inspection services and more efficient waste management. Inspectors could carry out their duties in a single location where there is a concentration of supplies.

Barker concludes:

In a week in which the NFU has come out and publicly emphasised the vitality of wholesale markets and the foodservice trade, the issue seems more relevant than ever.

Many of the nation’s markets are at a crossroads in their history, and are looking for the right path to build a prosperous and sustainable future. Getting the right mix for each individual customer base will be key to those fortunes.

Birmingham has what many others want – improve by all means but don’t sell the family silver!