Birmingham’s original fruit and vegetable wholesale market opened in 1883. Another site was built to replace it in 1973, and served the city until April this year. The new £50 mln Birmingham Wholesale Market is run as a 50-50 partnership between the traders –of whom there will eventually be 78 on site– and Birmingham City Council. Previously, the market was run exclusively by the council.
Last month it was all change for fresh produce wholesalers in Birmingham, as they moved to a new market site in Witton in the north of the city.
Once it is fully up and running, the site will employ 400 people and support more than 15,000 jobs in the region. Housed in a giant 250 x 70 m building, the market’s floor space is around 17,500 m2.
George Perry is the biggest trader on the site. The business began trading in 1870, and is recognised as the oldest fruit and vegetable wholesaler in England. In fact, according to some experts in the channel, it is probably the oldest business of its kind in Europe.
Today, it is run by Mark Tate and his younger brother, Paul. Mark Tate joined in 1983, the year after he left school. When Tate’s father retired in 2000, the business had a turnover of around £3 mln. Today, the two brothers preside over an £18.5 mln fresh produce empire, comprised of the original George Perry business, which boasts a turnover of around £7.5 mln; GP Salads, which serves caterers and offers more high-end fresh produce items, and has a turnover of about £6.5 mln; and a chain of greengrocers called Joe Richards, the largest independent fruit and vegetable retailer in the Midlands, which covers the rest. Across the three firms, there are 84 employees and a fleet of eight vehicles, making deliveries three times a week to food service businesses and secondary wholesalers in Worcester and Gloucester, among other places.
On any one day, the team serve 2,000 customers across George Perry and GP Salads from BWM. The customer base has diversified in recent years. As well as its usual independent retailer customers, George Perry has a contract with the company which provides fruit and salads to Birmingham schools and prisons.
Tate is wary of dealing with caterers, though. He says: “They can be notoriously slow payers. We argued with one recently who wanted 60 days to pay us. I told them it was 28 days or nothing. Late payments affect your cash flow, and companies like ours have to watch every penny – you have to keep your finances neat and tidy if you want to come good in this game.”
In terms of other customers, the business sells to the general public on a click & collect basis via its website, and recently handled an order for world-famous film and TV production site Pinewood Studios.