The market is entering its final phase in the negotiations with the Zona Franca Consortium, which will give it the option to extend its activities, as well as creating new ones, more in line with the times. This will bring an end to an eternal problem: the lack of space
Fruit Today euromagazine talked to Jordi Valls, General Manager of Mercabarna.
Could you please explain what Mercabarna Gates, a project which opts for Next Generation funds, consists of and how its roadmap is configured?
It is the project we are working on at present. In this ever-changing context, in which food and the role of the food supply chain are so important in the Covid crisis, guaranteeing a food supply, which is diversified and reasonably priced, in the cities has been a key element for resilience; therefore, we must invest in the improvement of this infrastructure. It responds to current needs, derived from the economic, social and environmental context.
Mercabarna Gates lines up with the Sustainable Development Goals and it is organised around 4 pillars: resilience, digitalisation, sustainability/health and food safety. The project is being carried out using a public-private collaboration with the entrepreneurs from Mercabarna and other organisations. This commitment to building alliances, which has been a key factor in the food trading estate’s management model, will allow us to increase our impact and to continue moving forward towards a food unit adapted to the new times.
Mercabarna has always been a pioneer market in many aspects. What plans are there on the subject of digitalisation, logistics and a lower environmental impact?
Amongst the most important aspects of Mercabarna Gates, the push towards the digitalisation of the Food Unit stands out, as well as the ecological transition. For this reason, we are already working on projects such as decarbonisation with energy efficiency improvements, the incorporation of photovoltaic energy panels on the public and private roofs on the buildings to supply the compound with energy, as well as the incorporation of more charging points for electric, gas or hydrogen vehicles. Additionally, at the end of the year, our circular bio-economy project will be started up, to minimise food waste and increase the recycling of waste generated by the companies located in our compound. Although our waste recycling rate is high, at 77%, we must go from a green infrastructure to a circular bioeconomy, and the technological leap is obvious and the route for this transition must be laid out properly.
We are working on different initiatives to make the logistics more efficient and sustainable, for example, we have started up a digital market place that connects the wholesalers’ needs to the logistics companies’ offer in real time to group loads together.
Digitalisation is the key factor. We are also working on a project to increase the digitalisation of the accesses to Mercabarna which, using Big Data, will allow us to know, for example, what are the user habits inside the compound from the logistics point of view, information that will help us to improve the distribution chain and mobility, both inside the compound and in the city.
Another of the important projects is the organisation of a last-mile capillary logistics system that is efficient, shared and sustainable, associated to digital or on-site purchasing, aimed at reducing delivery van traffic around Barcelona.
To increase the resilience of the companies and their business opportunities, Mercabarna Gates includes a 22% extension of the surface area of Mercabarna, around 22 hectares. Accordingly, we are in the final phase of negotiations with the Zona Franca Consortium, the owner of the land. This will allow the companies in Mercabarna that need more space to grow, as well as giving room to new last-mile logistic projects, food start-ups, transformation kitchens, companies with new packaging and storage technologies, omni-channel distribution and synergic purchasing platforms, etc.
You are signatories of the World Compact. Of the 17 Goals, which are you most involved in?
Mercabarna Gates is linked to 14 of the 17 SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.
The main element involves strengthening Mercabarna’s purpose, which is the Guarantee of Food Supply. We must strengthen our commitment with actions that result in the reduction of emissions, investing in the human capital of the Food Unit and that the activity is developed with the least impact on the natural environment. And all of this, guaranteeing the food supply to a population of approximately 7 million people.
We carry out many support activities for the companies located in Mercabarna, the agrifood sector and the citizens in our surroundings: ‘Mercabarna Impulsa’, which consists of help in hiring staff to promote the competiveness of the sector through new professionals; ‘Mercabarna Innova’, which attempts to motivate and reward innovation; ‘Innofood’, to speed up start-up companies: the many instruction courses that our Training Services organise and to which the ‘Instituto de los Alimentos’ (Food Institute), the comprehensive centre of professional training, which offers all the training for professional families in the sector of food technology, will be added from September onwards; the campaigns to encourage healthy eating amongst school children, which we organise alongside the wholesaler associations and that each year affect 12,000 children and the Trend Observatory.
Since its opening, how is the Biomarket evolving? Are the expectations being met?
The Biomarket is one of Mercabarna’s commitments; it forms part of an existing offer and a demand that will grow. It is not just a business line, but rather if forms part of Mercabarna’s actual purpose. It is difficult for me to think of a Food Market that does not have initiatives to strengthen the sector’s offer and demand, as well as what we call local or Km0 products. Furthermore, the European Union’s “Farm to Fork” strategy is going to reinforce eco produce and as a result the distribution chains must be strengthened.
It is proving difficult to move forward with a project of these characteristics in the 8 months that we have been experiencing Covid 19. Even so, in these first months of its life, the wholesale companies are beginning to find new clients from all over Spain and also the rest of Europe. We are going to complement the project with initiatives and offers of services for the entire Food Unit in the Last Mile distribution, proximity and nutrition area.
Over the next few months, we plan to restart sales and communication actions to promote the Biomarket and to find new clients, particularly retailers, and from the catering and restaurant sector.
What is the explanation for the drop in fruit and vegetables sales in 2020? Is it just due to the pandemic or does it respond to other questions?
It is just due to the pandemic, because if we look at the evolution of the fruit and vegetable sector at Mercabarna in recent years, we see that it has not stopped growing. Additionally, the decrease in sales only occurs in the central market owing to the restrictions in the HORECA sector as a result, above all, of the total drop in tourism. And this drop is small – just 5% compared to 2020. However, the companies from the fruit and vegetable sector that operate in the Complementary Activities Zone have increased their marketing by 3%, thanks to the increases in sales by supermarkets, fruit and vegetable chains and online trade.
It is important to emphasise that the export vocation of Mercabarna and its companies continues to grow. Today, 30-35% of the product volumes are aimed at export.
What consumer trends are being observed from Mercabarna, always from the fruit and vegetable point of view?
The pandemic has made consumers more aware of the need to have a healthy diet and a more sustainable planet. At the same time, online sales have shot up. This has helped to speed up the change processes of the companies at Mercabarna, particularly, regarding the last two aspects.
It is also important to underscore that the crisis means that the price has become an important component in the purchase process. The bio/health/e-commerce trend is set up against the need to reinforce a reasonably priced product offer for consumers and this is also one of Mercabarna’s functions: guaranteeing accessibility to products and that they are reasonably priced.
What point has the comprehensive refurbishment of the market reached?
It will be finished by mid-2022. At the end of this year, we will finish the modernisation work on the loading and unloading bays. Next year, the only thing left to do will be the renovation work on the access stairs and the restrooms and bars in the 7 halls of the market, as well as the resin paving of the central corridors of all the halls. I sincerely believe that the public/private agreement that we are using in the markets has been a magnificent initiative, what we could call a “best practice”.
Mercabarna has always had a significant import tradition, as well as export. In terms of imports (currently there are serious problems with shipping by sea), has the sector been affected?
No, it is not affecting Mercabarna’s import companies. At this time of year, fruit and vegetable produce comes mainly from the rest of Spain and, to a lesser extent, also from the European Union and this produce is shipped by road. Furthermore, the shipping lines by Short Sea Shipping that join Barcelona to Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia and the Mediterranean islands have been operating normally and the exotic products are arriving by sea/air from Latin America and South Africa and at the moment, this topic has not affected them.