Memorandum submitted by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) (SFS 27)



The National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) represents local authority wholesale, retail and specialist market operators and also a number of private market operators.

NABMA welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee and asks the Select Committee to consider the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1 - simplify central government's relationship with retail and wholesale markets by appointing a Minister with responsibility for markets, ensuring that all relevant departments 'think markets' when considering policy and legislative change, and have named contacts within relevant departments responsible for liaison and communication with the markets sector.


Recommendation 2 - support and commission, at central and regional government level, further research into the scale and value of retail and wholesale food markets in the UK.

Recommendation 3 - promote 'alternative routes to market' to strengthen and diversify food access. Specifically these should include developing wholesale markets as local food hubs, and piloting the development of wholesale farmers' markets.

Recommendation 4 - commission research to evaluate the benefits of a national roll-out of the Bradford wholesale market customer tracking project to help identify potential food deserts.

Recommendation 5 - support a pilot project for the development of food vouchers as part of the benefits system, to be redeemed on markets.

Recommendation 6 - consider the option of legislative change to support the creation of a robust and a sustainable food security strategy. This could include specific planning controls in relation to town centres, as well as protection for small businesses/independent producers in relation to having to accept significant changes to supply contract terms.

Recommendation 7 - consider the introduction of a new monitoring indicator measuring distance travelled/mode of transport in relation to retail food purchases.

NABMA will be pleased to provide further support on any of the issues referred to in this submission.


1. It is assumed that for the purposes of this inquiry, the Select Committee is using the same definition of food security as that contained in 'Ensuring the UK's food security in a changing world' (DEFRA 2008), namely: 'consumers having access at all times to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life at affordable prices.'

2. This submission is structured around the three elements of food security - availability, access and affordability, finishing with some comments on DEFRA's role and monitoring. It focuses on the contribution that markets - wholesale, retail, and specialist (e.g. Farmers' Markets) can make to securing the UK's food supplies.

3. Carolyn Steel in her book 'Hungry City' states: 'Wherever food markets survive, they bring a quality to urban life that is all too rare in the West: a sense of belonging, engagement, character. They connect us to an ancient sort of public life. People have always come to markets in order to socialise as well as to buy food, and the need for such spaces in which to mingle is as great now as it has ever been - arguably greater, since so few opportunities exist in modern life. The success of markets like Borough suggests that we have not lost the appetite for such encounters in Britain...'.


4. In relation to food production, we make only two comments:

According to 'Ensuring the UK's food security in a changing world' (DEFRA 2008) 'no single country accounts for more than 13% of food and drink imports.' NABMA supports the principle of maintaining a range of supply sources so that any risk to our total food supply is spread.

The same document states that: 'Currently the UK is 60% self-sufficient in all foods..." It is worth noting that the level of self-sufficiency is in decline, having peaked in the mid-1980s. The degree to which the UK can and should be self-sufficient sits at the heart of the debate on food security, particularly in the context of increased interest in and demand for local food.


Access - the role of markets

5. Markets have existed for millennia and historically ensured the residents of towns and cities had access to affordable fresh food and other commodities. They have also acted as a key source of retail innovation, creating many of today's multi-national retailers e.g. TESCO (Hackney, East London), Marks & Spencer (Leeds), and Morrison's (Bradford). This innovation is still being displayed today through, for example, Farmers' and Christmas markets.


6. Food retailing is now highly concentrated - at least two-thirds of sales are accounted for by just four retailers. (Cabinet Office - Food Matters 2008). In addition, these companies have created their own supply chains, which have by-passed traditional wholesale markets.


7. There is an historic lack of research and data relating to the markets sector. Although some progress is being made, the need for accurate and up-to-date information is a serious shortcoming and must be addressed.


8. Despite the concentration of food retailing, there are still some 25 wholesale markets in the UK, supporting in the order of 1,000 independent companies, directly employing approximately 10,000 people with a combined annual turnover of about 4.0 Billion (NABMA 2008).


9. In addition, the report of the First National Retail Markets Study 2005 ('The Rhodes Study'), which was jointly funded by NABMA and the National Market Traders' Federation (NMTF), revealed the following headline figures:


Over 1,150 Retail markets are operated within the UK

Over 150,000 stalls are available each week

The market industry offers employment to more than 96,000 people

Over 46,000 market traders work across the UK

Over 1.1 billion spent at market stalls each year in the UK

The average stall occupancy rates are 75% and falling.

Over 435 million shopping visits per year

Over 125 million turnover by market operators each year


10. NABMA is sponsoring a PhD studentship (the first to look at retail markets in the UK), which is currently investigating the changing place of traditional food retailing in English retail markets. The results are not yet available, but the study includes developing a national markets database and this is already showing a significant increase in the number of UK retail markets. This is largely due to the growth in specialist markets, including farmers' markets and 'country markets', which had not been recorded previously.


11. Farmers' markets, whereby stallholders only sell what they produce/make, are drawn from an area that is local to the market - typically 30 miles, and the principal stallholder is involved in production (so able to discuss farming/production practices with shoppers) were initiated in 1997. Research by the National Farmers' and Retail markets Alliance (FARMA) in 2008 identified some 800 farmers' markets across the UK (c.700 in England).


12. They have enabled the return of craft & traditional foods by creating a regular alternative to conventional supermarket food chains. They reconnect farming with their local community and can enable a rural/urban dialogue.


13. Retail markets remain an important part of the retail offer in towns and cities. Research commissioned by the London Development Agency (LDA) in November 2005 to inform the Mayor's Food Strategy, found that customers shopping for food at street markets spend between 3,000 and 15,000 a day in nearby shops, and local retailers, were almost universally supportive of markets.


14. In 2006, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducted research on Markets as social spaces. It concluded that:


Markets were important sites of social interaction for all groups in the community, but most significantly for older people, especially women.

Markets also represent important social spaces for mothers with young children, young people, and families with children, particularly at weekends.

Markets had a significant social inclusion role, as places to linger, particularly for older people and young mothers. Some markets also appeared to be inclusive of disabled people, although in other places this was less evident

There is limited national and local policy to encourage and support markets' role as a key social and economic space for the local community. Markets could play a more significant role in national policy agendas such as social inclusion, town centre regeneration and healthy eating.


15. The role of food markets can be evidenced by many examples of good practice. These have wider application, and are currently being developed as case studies. They include:


Billingsgate wholesale fish market - the development of a 'fish school' that reconnects school children and adults to seafood, and its innovative polystyrene waste recycling facilities.

Borough, London - an example of the declining market transforming itself through food to become an internationally renowned destination, and integrating wholesale and retail businesses.

Bradford Wholesale market - introducing customer vehicle licensing/monitoring that allows geographical mapping of independent food          retailers and caterers, and the identification of potential food deserts.

Bristol - in addition to the St. Nicholas Market, located in the historic medieval centre of Bristol there are also a range of other markets which include the Bristol Farmers' Market and the Bristol Slow Food Market.

Islington Whitecross Street- an example of a London Street market being transformed into a food market through a regeneration project.

New Covent Garden Wholesale Market - an example of integrating wholesale and retail supply via "Local to London".

New Spitalfields Wholesale Market - developed new waste management procedure to increase segregation and recycling of its annual      12,000 tonnes of waste from about 10% to almost 70% in three years - resulting in an international Sustainability Award from the World Union of Wholesale markets.

Northenden, Manchester - Community Food market introduced in response to 'food desert'/customer demand.

Stroud Farmers' Market - a weekly market of local food and craft producers that has revived a town centre and has superb community support.


16. It is recognised that today's consumers have more choice, more mobility and higher expectations, and find modern shopping centres/supermarkets attractive and convenient. Their 'convenience', however, may be at least partly due to a lack of alternatives. The resurgence of specialist food markets shows that a market at the end of the street can be both convenient and attractive.


17. In relation to local food, in 2008, The Big Lottery made 60 Million pounds available to increase the production, distribution, sale and consumption of local food. Funding criteria meant that local authorities could not directly bid for funds, but could be part of a partnership bid. In the context of markets this raises a number of issues.

18. In 2008, the New Economics Foundation (nef) published a report on Real Steps Towards Sustainable Food Systems. It concluded, among other things, that:


It is problematic to assume that there is a strong or inherent link between 'local' and 'sustainable'.

Positive policy intentions are too often not translated into good practice, or where they are, it is often on a very localised scale.


19. It further noted: "Local food is a contentious proposition: do scale and distance between production and consumption alone guarantee quality, affordability, accessibility, health, sustainability? On the other hand, while local food practitioners may not claim that their activities, in themselves, deliver a sustainable future, the motivations behind many initiatives are grounded, nevertheless, in a desire for environmental, health and social improvements...These funds will support the development of more integrated local food infrastructure, while also helping very localised social and community schemes.'

20. NABMA maintains that markets can support the local food agenda in a number of ways:

Wholesale markets are the source of most fresh produce sold in retail and street markets and are a vital, but under-estimated, link in the overall food supply chain.

Wholesale markets can be developed as local food hubs linking supply chain production, distribution and retail sale.

Wholesale markets can act as business incubators for innovative and entrepreneurial food companies.

Wholesale markets could be used to pilot the development of wholesale farmers' markets (currently unknown in the UK) to act as alternative, substantial and sustainable business opportunities for food producers that would act as a counter to the over-dominance of the supermarkets. The supermarkets do not always pay the best returns to suppliers, nor do they always offer stable, long-term business relationships. In times of economic downturn, where cost/price becomes paramount, they are more likely to pass the cost of retail discounting down the chain to their suppliers. Creating a diverse and broad distribution and retailing environment could, therefore, better support UK food producers.

Retail markets are best placed to 'take the food to the people'. They can therefore, be used to support the local food agenda directly.

Retail markets also offer the opportunity to act as employment/business generators by offering relative low-cost and flexible start-up opportunities.

In their capacity as 'community hubs', retail markets can be used to bring added value - cooking demonstrations, healthy eating promotions etc.




21. The 2008 review of street markets by the London Assembly, identified that 'Street markets are important to people as sources of affordable high quality food. A shopping survey undertaken by the New Economics Foundation in 2005 found that in Lewisham a shopping basket of food cost 4.74 from the market compared to a cost of 7.18 to buy the same food from a supermarket.' The NMTF Shopping Basket Survey 2008 also showed that, across a range of thirteen items, markets were on average 6% cheaper than supermarkets, and in relation to fresh produce, markets were 32% cheaper than supermarkets. They are thus in a position to respond positively to the current economic downturn and may not be as badly affected as some other retailers.


22. The average UK household now devotes around 9% of its expenditure to food, down from 16% in 1984. But the poorest 10% of households in the UK saw 15% of their expenditure spent on food in 2005-6 (Food Matters 2008).


23. According to DEFRA's Family Food Survey 2007, average consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK is 3.9 portions a day (3.0 portions in 1975). This still falls significantly short of the target of 5-a-day.


24. NABMA recommends that the inquiry considers a pilot project on the introduction of food vouchers as part of the benefits process, which could be redeemed for fruit and vegetables at markets across the country.


25. In July 2008, the Cabinet Office published Food Matters - Towards a strategy for the 21st Century. It states: "Street markets can be an important source of affordable, good-quality food including fresh fruit and vegetables. They can be significantly cheaper than supermarkets and so provide access to good-quality fresh food to those on low incomes."  It also states: "The success of farmers' and specialist markets and large revitalised city markets provide models for greater local engagement with fresh, affordable food and highlight an opportunity to modernise or develop new food markets. Cities and towns can, through their planning and food strategies, support farmers' markets and traditional street markets by:


identifying sites for markets, especially sites with good links to local transport infrastructure;

promoting markets and access, and challenging restrictions that limit signage for shoppers about opening times, and

looking at easing parking restrictions near markets to increase access."


26. Despite this, the role that markets (farmers', wholesale and retail) can make to the governments' food strategy and its obesity strategy (Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives) in terms of food access, food security, local food, effective and efficient supply chains, waste minimisation and recycling, education and health promotion appears to be significantly underestimated.

DEFRA's role


27. The Markets Policy Framework 2007, produced by the Retail Markets Alliance and launched by the All Party Parliamentary Markets Group (APPMG) identified that successful markets contribute to the social, environmental and economic well-being of the nation, by:


Providing a sense of place

Being part of the nation's cultural heritage

Remaining an important element of the economy, particularly in relation to independent retailing, local employment and business start-up opportunities

Offering local access to fresh produce and other commodities

Reducing environmental impacts e.g. by eliminating excessive packaging/waste.


28. In so doing, markets contribute to the following key areas:



Food & health

Culture & tourism

Community cohesion



29. This, coupled with the regulatory frameworks that markets operate within, means that the following departments all have some link or potential link with markets:


Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)

Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)

Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Department of Health (DoH)

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)


30. The result of this is that markets remain largely hidden and 'off the radar' when it comes to departmental thinking.


31. Two changes should be considered - the identification of a single central government department that takes a strategic and co-ordinating role for markets nationally, and that all departments when considering policy or legislation 'think markets', ensuring effective engagement with the sector. In the context of food security this should be DEFRA.


32. There are still significant knowledge/data gaps in relation to the UK food chain. This is exemplified by the lack of accurate and up-to-date information in relation to markets at wholesale and retail level. In addition, the nef 2008 report noted that 'the growing wealth of academic and other independent evidence around food issues is not readily available (financially, physically or intellectually) to many sustainable food advocates, even though it may have been compiled using public funds. The effectiveness of advocacy and campaigning could potentially be considerably strengthened through better access and use of these data and knowledge, especially at a time when 'evidence-based policy' continues to be a government mantra...'.


33. NABMA has led the creation of a 'markets knowledge base' group to help identify and plug the gaps. DEFRA is urged to support this group by commissioning and funding specific research projects.


34. Several European states and regions (e.g. France, Germany, Catalunya) have introduced specific legislation to protect town centres, mixed retail economies and maintain good food access. One consequence of this has been that wholesale and retail markets continue to play a more prominent role in relation to food provision in mainland Europe than in the UK.


35. In 2008, NABMA and the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) looked at a number of economic indicators for market - the number of markets, the number of market traders, the number of people employed on markets and the economic (business) turnover of the markets per annum. This is summarised below for a number of EU States:




No. markets



No. traders

No. employed

Gross turnover

(Billion p.a.)












































    36. Extrapolating the data for the whole of the EU produced the following:


EU Total

No. markets



No. traders

No. employed

Gross turnover

(Billion p.a.)








37. Collectively, the retail markets industry across the EU is comparable to a global company such as TESCO.


38. NABMA recommends that this inquiry reviews the option for legislative changes to support the UK's Food Security.


Criteria for monitoring food security.


39. In addition to the proposed headline indicator of share of spending on food by low income households, NABMA recommends that the inquiry considers a measure of how far consumers travel for their food shopping. This could look at distance travelled, frequency and mode of transport. This measure would help map food access and distribution (linking to the issue of 'food deserts'), and provide some indicative CO2 emissions data for food retailing from a customer perspective.


January 2009