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'Skip the supermarkets and come to the wholesale market,' says BWFA boss

The Birmingham Wholesale Fresh Produce Association (BWFA) is set to actively promote the new wholesale market as a place for members of the public to shop - providing they order 'by the box'.

Because of the 'Wholesale' tag, many people don't believe they can shop there but BWFA chairman Mark Tate says anyone could go as long as they bulk buy.

The giant £50 million site opened in Witton almost five years ago on May 8, 2018, after its former home off Pershore Street closed three days earlier on May 5. Originally opened in 1973, the now fully cleared site is set to become the £1.9 billion Smithfield redevelopment where a decade of soon to commence work is not expected to finish until 2034.

Mr Tate said moving to Witton had lost the association's members some walk-in custom from the Chinese community in Southside, but that had been offset by having "more deliveries going out", with traders travelling from places as far afield as Northampton and Milton Keynes further south, as well as East Midlands cities including Leicester, Derby and Nottingham.

With constant deliveries and movement, the market has a strict health and safety policy including children under the age of 16 not being permitted anywhere on site. Familiarity tours can be arranged for first time visitors.

"We are looking to possibly introduce a membership scheme similar to the one at Costco," said Mr Tate, who is also a director of the management company set up to run the new Wholesale Market as a 50-50 partnership with Birmingham City Council.

"As far as I understand it, that model is what enables Costco to run the way it does, more than the profit it makes from what it sells. So we are looking to set up something similar for the Wholesale Market. The profit we could make from such a scheme would be used to promote the market more where there are currently about ten empty units out of 78.

The new Birmingham Wholesale Market in Witton on May 5, 2018 - the day it began to open

"We work six days a week from 3am til 10.30am (9.30am Saturdays, closed on Sunday) so people would have to come early. But they would be able to save money compared with the prices at supermarkets.

"Those supermarkets operate with really clever marketing but are nowhere near as cheap as people seem to think. If they want to save money, they should come to us instead."

Along with brother Paul, Mr Tate runs George Perry, a multi-generations family fruit and veg trader with a history dating back to 1870. Believed to be the oldest such company in the UK if not in Europe, the company also supplies its own GP Salads and Joe Richards shops.

"The quality of our produce is second to none," said Mr Tate. "And shopping on the Wholesale Market would not impact the Bull Ring Markets - they would have completely different clientele now buying bowls of produce for £1 a time.

"We have a lot of Jamaican customers who come on Saturdays," for example, he said. "They know they can come to buy a box of red peppers, say, for a current price of £9 to £10 for a 5kg box and they might go home with several boxes of fruit and veg having spent around £100 on different bits and pieces.

"Of course, we sell fresh food and not many people would want to eat 5kg of red peppers, so someone could come, buy several boxes of different things and then distribute the contents of their boxes amongst their friends and family."

Looking at the wholesale trade post Covid, Mr Tate added: "We are on an even keel and something like back to where we started with energy prices obviously a concern.

"There are also supply issues from Spain which has had a perfect storm of a summer drought and a colder winter affecting the early blossoms - they need to adopt a more Dutch-like model for growing produce, which they now seem to be trying to do."


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