- Food is going digital, with transformations occurring in the way it is grown, traded and delivered.
- With more complex commercial ecosystems, the ways in which businesses supply produce need to be digitally enabled.
- The right technology will allow traders to do better business, and to prove produce authenticity.
A wholesale market may not be the first place you’d expect to find a digital experience. The seemingly endless rows of fresh seasonal fruits, green vegetables and cut flowers feel a world away from the digital transformation that so many businesses are grappling with. And yet increasingly, the food we eat is being drawn into digital ecosystems — from how it’s grown to how it’s transported and traded.
Melbourne, Australia, has had a wholesale food market almost as long as the city itself has existed. As the city itself has grown, over time, and with changing needs and resources, its markets have grown, died out or been amalgamated, culminating in the now famous Queen Victoria Market.
When that too became busy and constrained by space, the wholesale trade market, operated by the Melbourne Market Authority, was split-off to its own site in the inner-west. In 2015, a new market was created closer to Melbourne’s freeways for easier transport access. The market now sits on a massive 70 hectare (172 acre) site, housing a 9000m2 flower centre, 330 fruit and vegetable trading stands and 156 permanent stores.1
It is a veritable city within a city — and yet most people aren’t aware of it, even though 1600 businesses use the market as their base, buying and selling fresh produce in the wee hours, which by day’s end feature on people’s dinner plates.
Although — or due to the fact that — markets have long and varied histories, the way that many of them do business has not adapted with time. Selling fruit and vegetables is not a complicated process, but the logistics of doing so in a modern era, and at a scale that will allow for a growing and sprawling population, is becoming so.
For the Melbourne Market, this meant it was time to digitise its operations. With a warehouse footprint of 120,000m2, it is one of the largest warehouse precincts of any central market in Australia. Within its bounds traders, contractors, forklifts, buggies, a recycling plant, and a diesel station co-exist. The market has its own rules and regulations, safety requirements, speed limits, and demerit point system that contractors, traders, wholesalers and retailers must adhere to.
Until recently, a good percentage of the maintenance and operation of this world was documented on paper and in spreadsheets. Signing up for a market stall required a 20-page form filled out with supplementary documents attached. From the traders’ point of view, it was underwhelming. Frustration around the ease of access to market services — such as access cards, parking permits or paying invoices was cumbersome, manual and slow. The existing technological infrastructure was not adequate to build digital services on.
To fix this, the Market implemented new technology. With a Customer Relationship Management system from Salesforce and other cloud-enabled services, the market has transformed its operations to meet digital best practice.
For traders, this will mean a better customer experience, and the ability to access market services from a one-stop, self-serve online portal. Here they will be able to access real time details of their business such as invoices, employee information, infringements and parking availability or submit requests for new business registration, lease and licence changes. The market’s core systems will be connected, integrated, and mobile-enabled.
For the Authority itself, it now has insight into the sub-contractors being used for maintenance and the dollars being spent. It will improve the end-to-end visibility of any incidents that occur — such as a trader speeding and hitting a boom gate, the extent of the damage, the contractor used to fix it and the amount of money spent getting it operational again. Future plans will see the further digitisation of stalls, stands, warehouses, property allocation and more.
The dream is for a vibrant and sustainable market that, enabled by digital, will become a market precinct that offers fresh produce processing, distribution and a significant logistics centre. With transactional data collected from digital trading (currently most stand holders operate manual systems) the market will be able to flex when it comes to seasonal produce, improve operational efficiencies, understand what products are moving or standing still and allocate stands more efficiently.
This will allow the market to support their traders, and their businesses, in an increasingly digital world.
While fruit, vegetables and meat remain firmly in the physical domain, increasingly, there is intersection with technology. As consumers demand higher quality food, practices around obtaining produce are under more scrutiny. Being able to ensure the trading of food keeps it moving quickly and efficiently once picked, such as in the case of the Melbourne Market Authority’s digital transformation, will be necessary to keep people safe — and satisfied.