Professor Alan Hallsworth, Academic and Author, On The Value Of Markets

I was recently sent a press release regarding the publication of a research paper on the value of markets published by The National Association of British Market Authorities (Nabma) and written and researched by Professor Alan Hallsworth and colleagues. Over the past year I’ve found both the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid and London’s Borough Market to be very inspiring from a food and drink point of view, and I’m planning visits to markets in both Lyon and Bologna in August. However, I’d never thought about the beneficial economic and sociological effects these markets can have. The report gives clear evidence of this – with no better example being Borough market, now listed as one of London’s top ten tourist attractions. When you consider that London has just been named as the world’s most popular tourist destination (ahead of Bangkok, Paris, Dubai, Istanbul and New York) you can begin to see the importance of this in global economic terms.

Professor Hallsworth, is a visiting research fellow at Portsmouth Business School and I am very pleased and privileged that he has agreed to be this month’s guru – writing on markets.

If you are interested in reading further on the provision of food try the fascinating history, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860, by Gergely Baics. It’s a scholarly analysis of food markets in New York City in the run up to the civil war as it moves from tight regulation to free-market provisioning.


Markets are, for many people, just part of the everyday world. Hardly surprising since many current ones are still situated in locations established 700- 1,000 years ago. As well as signing Magna Carta, King John was also busily awarding Charter market status to many town markets. These Charters are still in force and regulate the ability of rivals to set up near a Charter market.

Recently, the Minister for High Streets asked the British Market authorities to look at current benefits of markets – I was part of the research team drafted in to look at the current situation. We identified 25 critical benefits including the fact that the industry is a significant employer nationally and locally. The initial findings were presented to an international conference in Barcelona – a City famed for its love and strong legal protection of – markets.

We discovered that, by making it cheap to get into business, Markets provide employment opportunities that are open to all. Accordingly, they are excellent business incubators and support new business formation. Furthermore, many traders are family businesses and employ extended family members on either a part or full-time basis. They thereby positively impact on town centres and enhance town centre resilience. Resilient towns are ones that respond and adapt to change. Comprising flexible and adaptable retail space, they can respond quickly to change, satisfying the current trend for better fresh food, for example. They also provide access to affordable goods and many – like Borough market, Camden market and Portobello market in London, attract overseas tourists.

Markets can generate footfall increases for town centres and increase retail sales, with significant numbers of market visitors spending money in other shops. They matter socially as found in research by Professor Sophie Watson who described them as ‘places of social interaction’. Likewise, they facilitate community cohesion and social inclusion. Because of the ease of becoming a trader, they have traditionally been attractive to new arrivals in a country or area. They encourage newcomers to become part of the community. Alongside this, markets engage people in society. The fact that markets are organized and regulated ensures participation by people from all backgrounds. Above all, they shaped the world we live in and are part of our cultural heritage.

In general, shopping basket surveys have shown that comparable foods are cheaper on the market than when over-packaged at the supermarket. Sadly, in comparison with, say, France, we in the UK do not educate ourselves well to identify good fresh food. Many prefer to trust the judgement of the supermarket that a product is good to eat. Visitors from countries where fresh food it usually bought at markets are at an advantage. Farmers’ markets, of course, arose originally in many cases because farmers and growers were obtaining a poor deal from the powerful supermarkets and began to attract customers directly to their stalls. This reminds us that markets are, in effect, an alternative food distribution system.

One that, I argue, we need to protect and support.

For other posts on markets follow this link.

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