Montefiore: A taste of Adelaide Central Market’s newest fruit

On the eve of its 150th birthday, there’s a new range of exotic fruit coming to Adelaide’s Central Market. It’s to be multi-flavoured varieties of the Managerial botanical family, set to revolutionise the trading lives of stallholders. But nowhere is there reference to crisis management as 2019 looms.

Sir Monty’s long-term habit of playing with the market has resulted in some windfall results. But nowadays, he prefers markets where supply and demand triggers can’t be easily manipulated. Adelaide’s Central Market is one of the city’s great trading places, its mountains of produce occasionally spilling to the floors in ripe abundance.

That’s one of its unique features, long expunged from other retail sites. But there’s a new-broom culture looming. The common nouns of its vast selection of fruit and vegetables won’t change, much to the relief of SA Tourism, which has assured South Australia’s interstate and international markets that a mandarin is the same the world over and won’t be rebadged just because of Chinese tourism. But a new way of thinking has been quietly imported into the pyramids of potatoes, shelves of silverbeet and racks of rocket.

It’s inspired by head office, where the administrators and board members do a comfortable, office-warmed nine-to-five, a much easier gig than the traders who rise five hours earlier to do their buying, long before the sun rises over Grote Street’s forklift drivers who await to offload the produce. The new corporate values come from Adelaide Central Market’s Strategic Plan 2018–22, whose principal aim is to ‘provide a diverse and exciting cultural shopping experience that enhances our precinct, city and state’.

Sir Monty, who has explored markets the world over, never realised that filling a string bag with apples and oranges could lead to such excitement, so has cancelled his flight to climes north on the grounds that everything he ever dreamed of is already here.

But, as they say in the steak knives department, there’s more.

The plan anticipates an arrival of ‘new and innovative Traders who will complement our existing offerings’. On top of that, it envisages a ‘survey of Traders to understand the most appropriate program for customer service trading for Traders and their staff’ and to back it up there will be ‘mystery shopper surveys to ensure customers are receiving optimum service.’

Quite right too, a market can’t have garden variety suburban shoppers determining that, especially if the purchase of a clutch of capsicums, a piece of pumpkin and a grab of garlic from now on has to be deemed an ‘optimum’ experience. The plan also seeks to ‘improve trader merchandising to drive increased turnover.’ Sir Monty can’t help recalling the Wall Street maxim that says ‘Turnover doth not necessarily deliver a profit’, and wondered how the traders, who knew this anyway, would break the news to the board.

What really warmed the roast chestnuts of his heart, however, was the Strategic Plan’s intention to ‘Conduct market research to expand on the information bank on customers’. This was far and away better than the information collated about NASDAQ trades that occur in a blip of a second on some computer screen, where the buyer and the seller are so fleetingly noted during the commercial copulation that, by the time the year-end bonuses are paid, no-one can recall how the profit was obtained.

The Central Market’s plan anticipates an ‘annual minor customer survey to be completed, providing additional information to reduce information gaps or opportunities to further refine the tactical customer research data set and ensure a consistent response’. Phew! It’s uncanny how the board planners speak just like the traders. Sir Monty imagined this data set, like some dark satanic tactical trope crunched to zeroes and ones, identifying each customer’s vegetable vagaries, processing away in a back room somewhere overlooking Grote Street.

Next – ‘Work with traders to identify their business point of difference to reinforce the unique offer in the Market.’ It will be fascinating to learn how multiple stalls selling identical ranges of tomatoes, bananas and avocadoes are to be segmented into ‘point-of-difference’ slots, but strategic planners have clever ways.

One potentially crucial clue is revealed in initiative 2.1.2: Story Telling. Sir Monty has taken many white-knuckle rides on the world’s bourses and concurs that story telling is a major feature of many of them. There are more Pinnochios on the trader floor than there are TV monitors. But in Adelaide’s Central Market it’s apparently going to be different. ‘Explore opportunities for Traders to improve their “story telling” at point of sale, highlighting the stall’s history and tradition.’ ‘Yes madam, this tomato looks the same in 13 other stalls, but we have been here since ‘63…’

The key will be customisation – ‘Work with Traders one-on-one to investigate customised improvements recognising history and tradition.’ Both are the market’s greatest selling points, but the ‘customised improvements’ prompted Sir Monty to think of how the nation allowed banks to adopt vertical integration, and look where that took small business and folks seeking financial investment advice.

All of this is a jolly ratatouille, but lurking behind the ‘big bang’ introduction of the Managerialism varietal range, and obscured under the leafy initiatives, actions, milestones and measures, is one matter that Sir Monty suspects will soon be of far greater relevance to traders. It’s about what might happen when the city council administrators send in the bulldozers to demolish the adjacent Coles supermarket and market arcade to replace it with multi-storey high-rise.

That Grote Street frontage is where pre-dawn produce trucks line up, awaiting the forklift drivers. Once the Coles frontage is overwhelmed with builders’ scaffolding, walls and barriers behind which will rise towering cranes, where those produce trucks will be relocated might be the only pressing ‘initiative’ on the minds of the market’s traders. Sir Monty searched in vain, but could find no Strategic Plan initiative relating to crisis management.

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