Is Mercabarna what you expected?
To answer that properly, I would have to differentiate between Mercabarna as the company that runs the food estate, and the food estate itself - a place where some 700 businesses operate. As a company, I have found Mercabarna to be what I expected, i.e., people with longstanding experience and professionalism trying to provide maximum service and projection to their customers, the estate’s business owners. There is little I can do to improve it in this regard - I will try to optimise it, but it already runs very well.
And Mercabarna as a food estate?
I wasn’t expecting there to be so much here at Mercabarna. It’s hard to find a concentration of businesses from a single sector like this anywhere else in the world. It’s a place with enormous potential and incredible turnover. If we can build on this by adding areas where Mercabarna is lacking, the exponential factor of economies of scale could be much more significant.
What do you think about the estate’s business owners?
Mercabarna business owners are at the top of their game. They import and export all around the world and have been nimble enough to adapt to today’s consumer needs. The food sector contributes twice as much to the GDP as the automotive sector, for example, and that’s thanks to business owners like the ones we have here. Right now I’m getting to know them, talking with them, sometimes about conflicting issues, and seeking alliances on common matters.
What can your professional background bring to Mercabarna management?
I think I can contribute in two ways: first, I am learning, and that doesn’t have a price. It would be hard for me to know more about specific Mercabarna issues than the people who already work here. My experience in financial entities and consultancies can contribute a managerial vision of many different problems to both the Mercabarna management team and the operating businesses, with solutions that are different to those usually taken on the food estate.
Tell me about the biggest challenges to be faced.
There are a number of different challenges to be faced: some resulting from changes in the environment; others having to do with renewing infrastructures and others again regarding the services that Mercabarna provides its 23,000 users with on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s start with the challenges relating to changes in the environment.
We have to accept and face up to the changes taking place in the food distribution chain and see what role Mercabarna businesses can and should play. This isn’t easy to explain in an interview without it appearing overly simplistic, but I’ll give you a few examples to help you understand. Major distribution businesses and organised restaurant chains, for example, will want to cut out links in the chain if the intermediate links aren’t providing them with what they need. On the other hand, producers are rallying to also skip some of these links and even to sell directly to the end consumer. In this regard, Internet and advances in logistics make direct dealings with end consumers much easier.
It’s hard to maintain, so now that we’re up at the top, why shouldn’t we continue to be the worldwide market of reference?
And other challenges are...
The fallout of the financial crisis and how it is impacting Mercabarna businesses. Luckily, the food sector is hardy, but the length and depth of the downturn means that many companies are being affected by the precarious funding currently offered by financial entities and the consequences this has on payments and collections, possible failures to pay, etc.
And how does infrastructure renewal tie into this?
The big challenge in this area is that some of the Mercabarna infrastructures need an overhaul as they have been operating for 41 years. We ought to make the most of this opportunity to design them so they can be as productive as possible for the activities they will carry out over coming years. The projects to tackle first will be those that concern the Central Fruit and Vegetable and the Central Fish Markets, the Multipurpose Pavilion and the Slaughterhouse.
You also spoke about the services that Mercabarna provides to users.
Yes. Here the challenge is ongoing service improvements, including security, cleaning and waste recycling, facility maintenance, telecommunications, marketing and communication, training and so on. I want to put a strong emphasis on training.
In addition to the training we already offer, we want to promote greater involvement by the managers in training. By this I mean economic and financial training, management courses and helping businesses work with mergers, concentrations, survival, and generational change, to name just a few aspects.
And what about the Barcelona Food Cluster that Mercabarna is spearheading?
There are 30 companies already involved in it, seeking solutions to common problems, jointly studying the direction the food sector should take and ways to adapt it, by taking advantage of the synergies established and working together. Our intention is to promote more clusters, solely for the purpose of providing better service. But Mercabarna is not a cluster manager; it can only promote them and when they are up and running they should be managed by the companies concerned.
What about the relationship between Mercabarna and the Delta del Llobregat facilities?
Barcelona City Council is strongly committed to close collaboration between these infrastructures, to make our city a point of entry for products from Asia and the southern hemisphere so that they can then be redistributed to the rest of Europe. It’s also backing the food sector as a strategic sector with greater future potential. At Mercabarna we are either already in talks or are about to start talks with the Zona Franca Consortium, the Port, the Airport, the Complementary Activities Zone, etc., to expand the food framework within this area.
How would you sum up Mercabarna in a few words?
An emblematic food city in the world. But it’s hard to maintain, so now that we’re up at the top why shouldn’t we continue to be the worldwide market of reference?