As staff shortages continue to plague industries across the country, thinning supermarket shelves and the reinstatement of purchase limits have made customers anxious.
But Stan Liacos, managing director of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, says there’s no need to worry food shortages aren’t the case everywhere – you just need to know where to shop.
Across Australia, fresh produce markets largely avoid the supply problems suffered by large supermarkets. Urban markets like Vic, Preston and Prahran in Melbourne and Paddy’s in Haymarket and Flemington in Sydney don’t just keep food on the shelves, but Laicos says the markets also offer shoppers competitive prices, “infinitely better quality ” and much less plastic packaging.
“Certainly we don’t see any stock issues visibly,” Liacos said. Large format. “Our retailers are smaller so they have a lot more flexibility when buying their stock.”
It’s a similar story here. “Our markets are operating as usual; stock comes in and goes out every day,” says Sydney Markets board member and wholesaler Shaun McInerney. There have been some Covid staffing issues but adds that the market is to some extent run by independent retailers so their businesses are largely protected due to the diversity of supply and delivery systems .
Liacos explains that large retailers are often locked into exclusive, multi-year contracts that prevent them from switching suppliers if something goes wrong, exposing them to disruptions and shortages. For small independent traders, this can be as simple as going to another seller in the wholesale market or calling local suppliers.
He says Queen Victoria Market has 10 fishmongers and over 60 fruit and vegetable stalls and they source their supplies on market days from Melbourne’s two main wholesale markets: Kensington Seafood Market and the Epping Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale Market, both closed to the public. Likewise, the market’s nearly 40 butchers largely source their supplies locally and can easily rotate if they run into problems with suppliers. And the same goes for markets across the country.
Suppliers and retailers also typically handle their own transportation, Liacos says, which means they aren’t dependent on logistics companies. He adds that smaller retailers tend to avoid long-term contracts and deal with distribution warehouses, due to the fresh nature of their stock.
The net result is that independent traders in Vic’s and Paddy’s Markets, and others like them, are able to choose their suppliers based on availability, quality and price. And with fewer people involved in the supply chain, disruptions can be more easily avoided.
Laicos says: “Maybe around 10-20% of our traders are affected by Covid one day. But when you have 40 butchers, for example, even though eight of them are out, you still have plenty of options.
The competitive atmosphere also helps put downward pressure on prices – from cheap produce to competitively priced meats and deli meats.
Liacos says shopping in the market isn’t exclusive and expensive, or just for foodies. “Some retailers operate at the high end, but there are also many who operate at the low end.” McInerney also points out that markets provide easy access to “eat well” but “not-so-pretty” products at great prices and at scale.
How to get the most out of shopping in Melbourne’s markets
He also recommends avoiding the Saturday peak period. Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays are when you’re likely to have a smoother experience. Paying attention to how buyers and traders interact can help you get a sense of market etiquette, so pay attention.
Investing in a decent cart is also essential. “A good one will last you 10 or 20 years,” he says, pointing out that there are a few cart retailers locally and you can even rent one. And almost all sellers have tap-and-go payment facilities.
McInerney’s advice is more fearless. “Kiss him, it’s a beautiful thing to go to the market. Don’t be afraid to step on the floor before you buy anything…do a search because there are plenty of options. Arrive early and go for your life.