Future Challenges for the Wholesale Fish Sector

Around 200 people from the Spanish fisheries sector, including wholesalers’ guilds and central market managers, retailers’ associations, suppliers, producers, ship owners, the heads of small and medium-sized distribution chains and representatives of the Spanish administration took part in the 1st Congress of Fish Market Wholesalers.

Anmape, an umbrella organization for 387 fisheries firms at 12 Spanish wholesale markets, delegated the organization of the Congress to the Barcelona and Province Fresh and Frozen Fish and Shellfish Wholesale Consignees’ Guild (GMP) to mark the 25th anniversary of the Mercabarna Central Fish Market.

This was the first time the parties involved in fishery production and marketing had met with the goal of sharing experiences, exchanging ideas and seeking ways for the wholesale sector to recover a specific weight within the distribution chain.

Fish sold in Spanish markets has fallen by 14% in the past seven years and currently accounts for 56% of fishery products distributed in Spain for consumption. 

What accounts for this drop? The wholesale market points to two factors: the growth in new commercial distribution formulae, dominated by large supermarket and hypermarket chains with their own supply channels, and changing consumer habits when it comes to buying fish.

In this context, the wholesale sector was keen to convey a message “of optimism” and decided to hold the Congress to assert, in the words of Leandre Serra, president of the GMP and vice-president of Anmape, that “despite these hard times, the sector is committed to renovation and consolidation as the main distributor of fishery products and to adapting to new consumer demands”.

“Markets: The Best Choice”
During the Congress, the wholesale sector stressed the advantages involved with buying from wholesale markets, which, sector representatives said, guarantee traceability, quality, food safety, variety and a good price.

Juan Carlos Martín Fragueiro, General Secretary for the Sea at the Spanish Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs and president of FROM, manifested his support for the wholesale distribution system “as it ensures price transparency and regulatory catches,” he said.

Along the same lines, former director of Mercabarna, Jordi Maymó, defended the market model as “an efficient and responsible public service” and emphasized the “site economies” generated that contribute to “product and service concentration, opportunities, collaboration between different links in the chain and between wholesalers themselves, innovation transfer, and so on”. Mr. Maymó pointed to Mercabarna in general and the Central Fish Market in particular as successful examples of this model, the key to which was “dialogue between Mercabarna management, the guild associations and the market businesses,” he said.

The model was further explained by the president of the GMP, Leandre Serra, during his speech which emphasized “the professionalization” of the organization, as it has increased its capacity to start up new market services. This, he said, had helped make Mercabarna’s Fish Market “one of the most advanced in Europe”.

Boosting Collaboration with Retailers
The wholesalers identified boosting collaboration with the retail sector – the main clients of central markets – to recover market share. One step towards this was a proposal to create a nationwide fishmongers’ school to supply the sector with qualified personnel.

The commerce and distribution manager at the Cerdà Institute and head of a study into Mercabarna’s Central Fish Market, Roger Gaspa, spoke of this need: “The central market concept has to change: it has to open up to new groups, advise customers, improve its image and promote market values.”

New times call for new strategies. Traditional fishmonger stalls today are losing ground against competition from supermarkets and hypermarkets, establishments which, according to Mercasa president Ignacio Cruz Roche, do not buy from markets in bulk but rather “go there only to complete their product range”.

Aware of this fact, the retail sector, via the president of the Fishmongers’ Guild of Catalonia, said they are working to change the situation. “The model of the family fishmonger business is starting to be replaced by a more ‘business-like’ model, with very big and professionalized companies,” said guild president Salvador Guirao. “It would be wise for wholesalers and retailers to work together on many issues, but particularly on promoting fish consumption among the public.”
He also agreed it was necessary to design projects aimed at more actively penetrating the hotel and restaurant sector.

Bringing Fish within Easier Reach of Customers
One of the main points reflected at the Congress was that the wholesale sector cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to consumer demands. To deliver a better service, it is necessary to know exactly what customers want.
IESE professor José Luís Nueno sketched a profile of today’s fish buyer.

“We are talking about older people, immigrants and small families who are very price-sensitive and who want easy, local shopping,” he remarked. This profile was shared by the president of the Fishmongers’ Guild: “Our customers are becoming increasingly demanding; they are better informed and know what they want. They are looking for price, quality and good product handling.”

Mr. Nueno advised wholesalers to adapt supply to this new customer profile, providing small-sized packaged products and regularly offering “well-priced goods”. He further encouraged wholesalers to make the most of fish’s well-known health properties to promote sales, and called on them to improve communications with consumers to “hit a number of stereotypes on the head, such as the idea that fish is expensive,” he said.

Also at the Congress, wholesalers proposed drives to encourage fish consumption among the public, which currently stands at 39 kg/person/year. Ideas included the creation of a “Fish and Health” Foundation, a project that would involve wholesalers, retailers, ship owners and the administration with the goal of conveying to society, especially children, the need to frequently consume fishery products.

Future Actions
Participants also agreed to undertake other initiatives to improve the future of wholesale fish markets and the sector in general. The wholesalers defended the need to restructure the markets. As Leandre Serra put it, “We have to adapt the central market business reality to the market reality. This means supporting business concentration which will make us more competitive.”

He also supported promoting collaboration agreements between markets and other agents in the production and marketing chain. A good example of this willingness to work together was the collaboration agreement reached by Anmape and Cepesca, an organization which covers around 75% of Spanish fishing vessels. The historic agreement will, Leandre Serra said, make it possible to improve the exchange of information between the two sectors, start up joint promotional activities, design new product presentation formats and other initiatives.

Visit to the Central Fish Market
Fish wholesalers and market managers from across Spain took advantage of the Congress held in Barcelona to visit the Mercabarna Central Fish Market. Accompanied by Mercabarna management and board members from the Wholesalers’ Guild, guests toured the Market and saw this pioneering facility for themselves.

The Mercabarna market is thermally insulated and features specific areas for unloading trucks and the reception and distribution of goods. It is also fitted with handling rooms at all sales points and has special freezing rooms that keep frozen products at their optimal temperature. The visit ended with a luncheon put on by the Barcelona and Province Fresh and Frozen Fish and Shellfish Wholesale Consignees’ Guild (GMP).