Comprendre les enjeux de l'agriculture
The wholesale market is a crucial link in the agri-food chain. It serves as a connection between the agricultural production sector and the supply of food products. Upstream, small and large producers ensure the supply of fresh products, while downstream, retailers and restaurateurs source their goods from these markets. In the context of increasing urbanization and population growth, the demand is intensifying, necessitating wholesale markets to adapt while being subject to the uncertainties of the agricultural sector (climate, scarcity) and new sustainable goals. They are pillars of food security and may have specific characteristics depending on the country in which they operate. Indeed, the national strategy for commercial exchanges (competition, quotas, etc.) and regulations (food, health, fiscal) impact their functioning. In recent years, new considerations such as digitization, green energy, or social responsibility also need to be taken into account. Wholesale markets will have to evolve further to resist alternative circuits proposed by the agri-food industry’s purchasing centers.

Delphine Acloque is a researcher at the Center for Economic, Legal, and Social Studies and Documentation in Cairo (CEDEJ). She studied the organization and position of wholesale markets in agri-food exchanges in different parts of the world. In her report, she describes their role and the challenges they face.

The Wholesale Market as a Performance Player

As a physical representation of commercial exchanges, it is where supply and demand intersect. This “food wholesaler” acts as an intermediary between production and consumption. For example, in 2022, the Rungis wholesale market saw the transit of numerous goods, with the following tonnage proportions:
  • Fruits & vegetables 70%;
  • Meat products 16%;
  • Fine groceries and general food 9%;
  • Seafood 5%.
At Rungis, producers or importers face a multitude of buyers, including merchants, restaurateurs, and sometimes purchasing centers. Sellers display their goods on the “floor,” and negotiations occur based on the supply-demand ratio. The majority of sellers are classified as “diffusion wholesalers” (selling on-site), while a minority are represented by “full-service wholesalers” (distance selling and delivery of goods).
On a global scale, the share of wholesale markets in the supply of food varies by geographic region. For example, the share of fruits and vegetables supplied by wholesale markets is as follows (source: World Union of Wholesale Markets,
  • Americas 60%;
  • Europe 40%;
  • Asia-Pacific 55%.
In recent years, wholesale markets have expanded their services by offering complementary services upstream or downstream in the supply chain, such as sourcing or specific packaging. Through these actions, they reinforce their economic role by becoming a territorial actor for communities.

New Territorial Responsibilities for Wholesale Markets

Born in the 19th century to respond to urbanization and industrialization, wholesale markets were given functions of general interest, notably in France in the 1950s, with the creation of a network of National Interest Markets (MIN) numbering about twenty sites.
With the advent of large-scale distribution and the development of the agri-food industry deploying its own transit platform system, wholesale markets lost influence. Powerful purchasing centers like Aldi or Lidl relegate them to the background. For example, in Germany, these centers control almost half of food flows. The demand for local and direct consumption also disrupts the landscape of food distribution, as seen in France with the emergence of associations for the support of peasant agriculture (AMAP).
To prevent the disappearance of wholesale markets, the French government assigns new functions to MIN:
  • Participation in territorial planning;
  • Participation in improving environmental quality;
  • Implementation of a strategy for food security.
Despite this, some markets will be privatized, such as the Lyon MIN. Relocated to the outskirts, it will go from 74 wholesalers to about twenty operators, precisely those capable of paying the entrance fee (around 700,000 euros).
The food crisis related to Covid-19, however, highlighted the potential of MIN in both territorial and food strategies. For example, the Île-de-France region launches a new project called Agoralim, bringing together private and public actors around a comprehensive strategy for planning and food distribution, supported by a major project to build an agro-logistics hub. This project will be launched in 2025 near the logistics hub of Roissy, in the Parisian suburbs.

The Case of Wholesale Markets in Morocco

Since 1962, the forty national wholesale markets in Morocco had a monopoly on food supply. However, a law in 2021 opened the market to farmers who can now sell directly, bypassing intermediaries.
The creation of wholesale markets aimed to centralize the flow of goods, especially to enforce transactions. The system proved to be inefficient, with authorities uncovering weight frauds and the emergence of parallel markets accounting for up to 78% of transactions in some regions.
The kingdom has decided to review the agri-food supply ecosystem, facing a recurring challenge: restoring the original wholesale markets and the legal framework without inflating food prices. National decision-makers see an interest in the creation of mega-projects, real levers for economic performance, while regional actors fear being disadvantaged by the disappearance of local transactions.

Wholesale Markets Facing Risks, Especially Health Risks

Wholesale markets in emerging countries do not face the same challenges as those in developed countries that focus on digital, health, and sustainable transitions.
The former are still in a phase of building skills to cope with increasing urbanization, dealing with imperfect road infrastructure and fragile food resources. In these conditions, the health risk is high, as demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a virus believed to have originated in the Huanan market in China.
Since this pandemic, many states have modified regulations related to health safety in wholesale markets. For example, South America has imposed new rules and procedures, including:
  • Mandatory use of gloves;
  • Disinfection of containers;
  • Follow-up of a packaging and storage protocol;
  • Obligation of equipment for controlling potential contaminations;
  • Introduction of controls at the entrance of warehouses.

Wholesale Markets Supplying the Poorest

Global agri-food exchanges constitute an alternative resource in case of local shortages due to conflict or extreme climatic conditions (drought or flooding). The wholesale market is a privileged operator to ensure the link between foreign producers and local retailers.
In Chennai (formerly Madras), India, the wholesale market ensures a permanent availability of affordable fish for poor populations. To achieve this, it sources from different producers throughout the year. The wholesale market in Beirut also guarantees permanent access to food resources and provides job opportunities for Syrian refugees.
These international collaborations go beyond food supply; they also allow the financing of new infrastructures in emerging countries. The French actor SEMMARIS, specialized in the development and operation of wholesale markets, offers its advice and technical expertise for the creation of new sites, such as the North Egyptian project funded by the French Development Agency (AFD). The World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM), another specialized operator, shares its know-how with project leaders worldwide. This organization manages over 200 markets in about forty countries.

The Wholesale Market of Tomorrow

Like all economic operators, wholesale markets are changing:
– Developed based on profitable standardization or normalization of products, they must now territorialize their strategy with short circuits linked to local heritage (labels, protected designations);
– To accelerate an inevitable digital transition, some welcome technologically innovative startups on their sites, like Euralimentaire, a site in northern France that, in addition to its supply services, incubates about forty startups;
– Finally, with sustainability in mind, wholesale markets must optimize food resources, propose recycling circuits for unsold items, and limit waste or losses.
Wholesale markets will, therefore, have to offer both regional products to legitimize their role as a local economic catalyst and organize supplies from national or even international sources to ensure food security.

Source : Cairn