Montevideo sets sights on 'its Mercabarna'

28th January 2008

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, the second smallest country in South America, which borders Argentina and Brazil and also looks out onto the Atlantic Ocean. With over two million inhabitants –half of the country’s population– it is home to Uruguay’s only wholesale market. This is the Mercado Modelo (Model Market), a fruit and vegetable market spread out over five hectares and located in the city centre. The difficulties arising from its being right in the hub of the city, compounded by the need to update obsolete facilities, have led municipal authorities to the decision to move the Market. Montevideo has sought Mercabarna’s advice to meet this challenge.

From 14 to 16 January, Montevideo mayor Ricardo Ehrlich, accompanied by Carlos Baldassini, chair of the Mercado Modelo, and a group of municipal officers, made an institutional visit to Barcelona. The trip included a meeting with Mayor Jordi Hereu and Jordi W. Carnes, chair of Mercabarna, and also an extensive visit to the Mercabarna facilities. In the course of the Uruguayan delegation’s stay in the city, the close collaboration relationship between Barcelona and Montevideo city halls became evident. This is hardly surprising since, for more than two years, Mercabarna staff have been advising Montevideo’s municipal authorities on how best to move their wholesale fruit and vegetable market and to create a food platform.

The Mercado Modelo has become obsolete

For some time now the Montevideo authorities have been seeking a solution to the space limitations and deterioration of the country’s sole wholesale fruit and vegetable market, the Mercado Modelo. Built 80 years ago, the facility is located right in the capital city’s centre and occupies some five hectares, including the Fruit and Vegetable Market building, different agriculture-related businesses (for the sale of fertilisers, packages, seeds, etc.) and the streets of the precinct. As Mercado Modelo chair Carlos Baldassini explains, "We’re in an urban area and the coming and going of trucks and vans causes numerous traffic problems." Mariano Lechardoy, former head of Studies and Development of Mercabarna and one of the project consultants, remarks, "In Montevideo they’re dealing with the same problem Barcelona’s Born Market had to face 40 years ago and which led to the creation of Mercabarna."

At present more than 500 wholesalers operate in this market. According to Mr Lechardoy, "There are many companies but they’re very small. Many of them are farmers selling their products, or seasonal wholesalers who, depending on the product they market, come to the Market at a given time of year." He adds, "To give you an idea, they work like the cooperatives in Mercabarna’s Central Fruit and Vegetable Market". The Mercado Modelo commercialises some 300,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually, which are distributed throughout Uruguay, especially in the capital and coastal areas. "Within the next 10 years, we want to reach the figure of 500,000 tonnes commercialised annually," specifies Carlos Baldassini, "but with the current structure we simply can’t cope with this growth."

Why Mercabarna?

In view of this situation, the Montevideo authorities decided to move the Market to the outskirts of the capital and build a new logistics centre under a different type of management. This idea, however, was ruled out when they discovered the Mercabarna model and saw for themselves that it was a better idea to have these activities grouped into one precinct.

As the mayor of Montevideo further explains, "We found out about Mercabarna thanks to the close relationship we had maintained for years with Barcelona City Hall. But it wasn’t until 2006, at the Congress of the World Union of Wholesale Markets, and after attending a presentation on Mercabarna given by its general manager, Jordi Maymó, that we saw that this model, unique in the world, consisted of combining the Central Markets and the Complementary Activities Area (ZAC). It was most interesting and very much in line with our needs. We then undertook the collaboration project and started making contacts with the heads of Mercabarna so they could advise us." This joint endeavour resulted in a document: the preliminary design project of a food platform. To conclude the advisory process, in April or May the Mercabarna staff will travel to Montevideo to finalise the specifications of certain aspects of the project onsite.

From Market to food platform

Mercabarna’s proposal involves maximising the much-needed move of the Mercado Modelo in order to create a food platform there. As Mariano Lechardoy points out, "The idea is to make this new venue multipurpose, something more ambitious than just a new fruit and vegetable market."
One aspect of this project that is already settled is the new Market’s location. It will be built in a strategic area eight kilometres from the centre of Montevideo. While initially it will occupy 40 hectares, the idea is to expand the precinct to 100 hectares at a later date.

The project foresees the building of three warehouses, of some 10,000 m2, for wholesale fruit and vegetable sales. These facilities are to have a structure similar to that of Mercabarna’s Central Fruit and Vegetable Market, with a centre aisle flanked by produce display stalls. Thought has also been given to setting aside a space within the precinct for the building of yet another pavilion in the future.

Mariano Lechardoy says, "Following the example of the Mercabarna model, the project includes the making of a multipurpose warehouse and a multiservice pavilion." The multipurpose warehouse will be for the sale of meat, fish, frozen products, beverages, etc., following the cash & carry model, while the multiservice pavilion will house storage areas, cold-storage facilities and space for companies that specialise in product handling and packaging.

Finally, space will also be set aside in this platform for offices, services (commercial premises, banks, etc), a car park, and also a zone that would enable business owners to create their own Complementary Activities Area.