Memorandum submitted by Nicholas Saphir (SFS 19)




Executive chairman OMSCo (the UK Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative) 2003; Chairman Coressence Ltd[1] 2006; director Bodin & Nielsen Ltd 1975; Chairman and Trustee of several trusts and foundations. Director City Food Centres Limited, 2005




Farmed 1,000 acres of fruit and arable in Kent; responsible for corporate fruit and vegetable farming activities and investments in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Uruguay, Holland.


Chairman and chief executive of Hunter Saphir plc, a fresh produce and food manufacturing group which was sold to Albert Fisher plc in 1992; remained on Board until 1997; non executive director San Miguel SA (Argentina)[2] 1993 - 1998 and 2001 - 2007; non-executive director of Dairy Crest plc 1987 - 1993.


Chairman Rural Revival[3] 2002 - 2007; chairman of the Agricultural Forum[4] 2001 - 2004; president of the Fresh Produce Consortium[5] 1997 - 2000.


Founder chairman of Food from Britain[6] 1983 - 1987; chairman of the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation[7] 1980 - 1983; a member of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food's Inputs Task Force; member of the Food and Drink Economic Development Council 1984 - 1987.


Author of the London Wholesale Markets Review (2002) commissioned by Defra and the Corporation of the City of London on the future of London's wholesale-markets and several papers on the future of the countryside.


1. Introduction


This submission addresses the issue of food distribution outwith the supermarket supply chains and with particular reference to the third of all food and drink consumed in the South East of the UK. It is based on work undertaken for the Review of London Wholesale Markets[8] subsequently updated in presentations including to the Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA) in April 2006 and the National Association of Wholesale Market Authorities. It considers the needs of consumers and the ongoing development of Britain's food and farming industries particularly in the context of Food Matters, Farming and Food, a sustainable future, Healthy and Sustainable Food for London and The Review of London Wholesale Markets.[9]


It argues for an understanding of the opportunity to build on the UK wholesale food markets as centres of improved food distribution, food education, food centres for SMEs and start ups and for providing answers to the issue of environmentally sustainable logistics through consolidated distribution and waste management.


1. The Issue


Since the Review of 2002 was published several of the main wholesale markets throughout the UK have started to develop projects based on ideas included in the Review in terms of composite distribution and an emphasis on added value preparation. London, however, has not benefitted from the Review.


Ongoing environmental and commercial damage is being done to London by the continuing Charter based monopoly rights of wholesale food markets. These ancient rights prevent competition and have resulted in the third of all food and drink distribution that goes through non supermarket outlets, particularly to catering establishments, having to be delivered to, purchased and distributed from different markets on different delivery vehicles mostly to the same customers, thereby causing unnecessary commercial costs, pollution and congestion with no compensating benefits except for a damaging continuity of archaic traditions. It also means that no markets in London are large enough to deliver the benefits, commercial and public, available from the implementation of the original Review and subsequently developed Food Centre ideas. Fragmentation means that there has been an over-allocation of land, capital and resources to the duplication of supply chains that are no longer viable in isolation. This also means that there is a shortage of capital available when required to maintain the essential competitive position of the wholesale markets and to keep them abreast of modern trading requirements, including environmental engagement and health and safety.


Increased efficiency in food distribution (encompassing primary distribution, food preparation and catering) can significantly reduce food waste, energy waste and the need for road transport when handled within a dedicated food centre on the lines proposed - alternative fragmented approaches become constrained by small scale complexity and do not have the mass to address most of the issues of the Public Good


2. The Opportunity


Composite Markets, as envisaged in The Review of London Wholesale Markets, included a vision for the future of the wholesale markets. In specifically addressing London's issues, the Review suggested that London's wholesale markets should be consolidated in to three Composite Markets. It proposed the establishment of specialist food parks incorporated in to the existing wholesale markets. It suggested that the wholesale markets could be developed to attract primary suppliers, specialist manufacturers and distributors focused especially on supplying London's catering and specialist food retailers. It suggested that such a concentration of activity might attract large food companies to mentor and possibly finance SMEs, through an 'incubator', ideal for second stage development. In addition the report suggested that it might be possible to set up facilities for catering education, preferably in conjunction with existing catering colleges, and other facilities to enhance and develop the commercial opportunities and public good available through wholesale markets. [10] Ironically a reduction in the number of markets enhances their competitive position by making each market strong enough to withstand external forces of consolidation in food distribution and retailing. Smaller markets, as at present, lack the critical mass to withstand the competitive onslaught of the significantly larger groups in both sectors. The survival of the markets after the rapid rise of the super-markets has been more appropriately attributed to luck in the changes of catering behaviour rather than a result of planning, strategy or foresight.


City Food Centre's concepts are relatively simple - importantly they enhance the relationship between the market, the sources of produce and the procurement agencies, thereby recreating a forum for open and transparent trading and direct and easier access between the parties - this is a major advantage of consolidation and of having food-centric and procurement offices on site.

Subsequent work has developed the potential for the development of integrated food hubs that would provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs to enter the industry, for the effective distribution and consolidated management of local and regional foods, as well as facilities for established players to profitably develop their businesses in providing the opportunity for sourcing consolidated food supplies and food requisites from composite markets. City Food Centres would also provide facilities for the specialist needs of the catering industry, serviced offices for public procurement and general food education. In addition they would provide the environment for the establishment of innovation centres for better understanding and enjoyment of food as well as the development of more focused opportunities for local and regional foods.

3. Recommendation

The main recommendations included in the 2002 Review remain the foundation on which this summary submission is based. It must be a policy objective of government to support the development of a more effective and environmentally sustainable non supermarket distribution for the South East of England. This is particularly of importance to encourage SMEs and the production and distribution of local and regional foods. It is pleasing to see that some of the ideas included in the Review being taken up outside of the South East. It is also gratifying that, after several in-depth discussions over the past four years between CFC and the Covent Garden Market Authority, a number of the core ideas promoted by CFC have been adopted or are informing the tender process of the CGMA with regard to the redevelopment of NCG. However, it is recommended that if an effective alternative to fragmented distribution to specialist shops and catering establishments, which represents significantly over 30 % of the food and drink consumed in the South East, is to be conjoined with the possibilities of benefitting from centralised catering and food education and innovation, improved distribution of local and regional foods and provide incubator opportunities for new young start ups in the food industry, government should review and implement the key findings of the 2002 Review. These recommendations and subsequent submissions include the removal of monopoly rights that prevent the development of Composite Markets. Such enlarged and one stop markets would allow for both commercial and social enterprise development of conjoined City Food Centres as presented in detail to the Covent Garden Market Authority in April 2006.

In the context of securing food supplies for 2050, in addition to the increased output of agriculture, it is suggested that more effective distribution would be of significant benefit in terms of efficiency, sustainability, innovation and the encouragement of more SMEs in production and distribution of British food.

January 2009



[1] A company developing functional food extracts from apples

[2] An Argentine public company farming 15,000 hectares and processing 350,000 tonnes of fruit

[3] A Social Enterprise Foundation, part of the Plunkett Foundation

[4] The Agricultural Forum was formed in the 1970s to promote understanding and development within the various parts of the UK agriculture and food industry

[5] The Fresh Produce Consortium is the trade association that represents the interests of the UK trade and retailers of fresh fruit and vegetables.

[6] Food from Britain was set up by the UK Government in 1983 to improve and promote the marketing of British food and drink in the UK and world export markets.

[7] The Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation was the Government agency responsible for the development of agricultural co-operatives and the distribution and monitoring of grants.

[8] Review of London Wholesale Markets, Saphir, commissioned in 2002 by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in conjunction with the Corporation of London 2002

[9] Food Matters, the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report July 2008, Farming and Food, a sustainable future, The Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food report to Government, January 2002. Healthy and Sustainable Food for London, The Mayor's Food Strategy, 2006

[10] Key findings Appendix 1