The traditional fresh markets; don’t forget them!

By Cleo van Rijk

For my MSc thesis I researched the food chains of the traditional markets in the province of Noord-Brabant in the south of the Netherlands. Hardly any research has been done on the food chains of traditional markets in the Netherlands. Therefore I have researched the fresh markets of the four biggest cities in Noord-Brabant: ’s-Hertogenbosch, Breda, Tilburg en Eindhoven. This has led to very interesting results.

Market in city of BredaDespite the alternative movement, the distinction between conventional and alternative is not so clear (Kirwan et al, publication forthcoming; Sonnino & Marsden, 2006). Therefore it is important to research aspects of both alternative as conventional food supply chains (FSCs). The main part of the food system is conventional, which means it is important to also look at the potential for sustainable possibilities within conventional FSC. AFNs like farmers’ markets have been researched often, however there is hardly any research done on the role of local food and short food supply chains (SFSCs) within supermarkets and traditional markets as part of the conventional FSC. Especially the traditional markets are forgotten. In addition, the traditional markets, as an important source of fresh food in the Netherlands, are under pressure. Many Dutch organizations are looking for solutions for the future of the markets, as they have much difficulty by keeping up with the changes in society. A focus on sustainable food could mean a solution. Supermarkets are powerful organizations which already are trying to win the consumer preferences by selling organic and labeled typical products. While there has been done nothing to look at the potential of the fresh markets as a tool for sustainable development, because the food supply chain of the traditional markets is hardly known. This is why it is important to get insight into the situation of traditional markets.

The goal of this research is to make clear how the food supply chain of four traditional Dutch markets look like and to research the potential of the fresh markets as a part of a local and regional food network. The main research question is: How does the food chain of the traditional fresh markets of the four biggest cities of Brabant look like and in how far is there potential for a larger regional embeddedness?

The share of regional food in the FSC of the fresh markets is larger than expected, namely 13 of the 27 interviewees in fruits and vegetables has a part of their products from their own garden or directly from a farmer. When one also counts the part of the clock auction, then this is 18 of the 27 interviewees. But still the biggest share comes from the wholesalers (59% of the total), so products that come from everywhere. The share of regional food in fruits and vegetables is very differently per city. Cheese is not specifically regional bought. However there is a growing share of organic cheese at the markets. The poulterers sell Dutch chicken, that come from intensive animal husbandry, and is directly bought from the slaughterhouses to be processed by themselves. They also have a growing share of organic meat, but it is still very small. In the hunting-season they also sell game, which comes from local hunters. The fish is mainly bought at wholesalers. Most of the market traders in fish do not pay attention to the MSC-label, but some of them do pay attention to the mating season of the fish, to maintain sustainable development.

The FSCs of the fresh markets of Brabant are not completely conventional and not completely alternative. This research also shows that the distinction is not so clear. The fresh markets have alternative aspects like local products, regional products, important social relations and little waste of food. These aspects however, are not visible to consumers and other parties, because market traders are not aware of it. The alternative aspects are mainly enhanced due to consumers preferences, quality preferences and the underlying traditions of the way of working of the market traders. Also trust plays an important role.

The fresh markets are embedded, especially in socially and cultural aspects, but also in territorial and ecological embeddedness. The fresh markets offer much potential for the enhancement of the embeddedness, but this is not visible in the present discussion on the regionalization of food supply chains. Click here for the thesis in Dutch