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Consumers were especially interested at the busy open door night

Traders at Mabru are open to change

Last week, Mabru held a open door night in the in Belgian capital. From midnight to seven in the morning, interested parties could come and have a look at the Belgian Early Market. The theme for this year's edition was Portuguese products. Laurent Nys, Director at Mabru, remarked that there were more visitors this year than at the previous edition in 2015. "All of the 1,600 parking spaces in our lot were taken", said the director during the night. "Fortunately there was parking available on the lot adjacent to the Early Market. We expected between 4 000 and 5 000 people at this edition. If we look at the full parking spaces, that is likely."

Mabru Director,  Laurent Nys.

The theme of this edition of the Early Market was Portugal. There were different Portuguese products for the public to taste.

Carlos Coelho was Mabru's Portuguese representative. He says his apples distinguish themselves as they grew in hot days and cold nights. According to Carlos, this means they have a firmer texture, but sweeter taste.

Ludger Nollet of Nollet confirms this. "It is much busier than the last time", he said. "It is nice to see outsiders come to see how things go here. As a rule, these people don't come here." According to Ludger, it is thanks to social media that this edition was busier than the last. "I saw it advertised a lot on Facebook", he said. "It was shared often and photos promoting the event were regularly placed. I do think this helped."

Ludger Nollet from Nollet with Belgian apples.

The Nollet stall at the Early Market.

There are 140 traders, in total, at the Early Market. Besides fruit and vegetables, fish and flowers are also sold here. Stefan Bosmans of Michel Fruit also remarked that this edition was busy. "It is a great initiative", says the businessman. "It was mostly consumers that came to have a look. The traders are, of course, already familiar with the market. Someone who never comes here, now has an idea of what goes on here. Here they can find out about fruit and vegetables."

Strawberries were Stefan Bosmans of Michel Fruit's top product.

Wim Vandepoel of Fruit Vandepoel continued. "Consumers see things they are not used to here", he said. "Take mushrooms, for example. There are varieties here that are not sold in the supermarket. Some of the types of raspberries sold here are much nicer than those in the shops. The produce is also fresher here", said Wim. 

Wim Vandepoel and his raspberries.

The wide variety of mushrooms at Fruit Vandepoel.

The feedback was not, however, only positive at the Early Market. The outdated building, which has not changed much since the early 70's, is one of the disadvantages experienced by the traders. "The building is very outdated", said Inez Loomans of Vrijders. "The ladies toilets, especially, are shameful. They are better in the new building, but here things really need to change."

Inez Loomans of Vrijders said their raspberries are selling well.

Unfair competition
Another common complaint was Mabru's opening hours. Is it appropriate to open at midnight and only close in the morning?  "There are no set times", said Frank Valckenier, whose company bears his name. "When I was a child the Early Market was open from 04.00 to 08.00. Now it is actually open for 24 hours per day. There are no rules or control. Customers can come by during opening hours, but the traders can be there for 24 hours. It happens that the traders somehow get a employee pass for their customers. These customers can then come to the market whenever it suits them. Traders who operate like this create unfair competition."

Frank Valckenier's company of the same name does well with strawberries.

Wim Vandepoel would also like to see the opening hours change. "It is better for some people to be here at night. We would prefer the afternoons", he said. "It obviously differs from one market and business to another when they want their products. It would be better for me to start with orders in the late afternoon and deliver in the evening. In this way, you can avoid the queues, and we can serve our customers better." Inez Loomans of Vrijders would also like to see different opening hours. "There is much discussion about this", she said. "It would be more ideal if the market did not start so early. It should start later and stay open until ten or eleven in the morning. That would be better. I don't see this changing any time soon. It will be difficult to change such a habit."

Visitors could taste the fresh products at different places in the Early Market.

Lots of activity during the Early Market.

The issue of the opening hours is a valid point for Mabru's Director, Laurent Nys. "The opening hours, as they are now, are indeed a problem for some of the traders", he said. "It is important to find a good balance. The demand from a restaurant does differ from that of a shop trader. You have to cater for this. I do see things changing to provide an agreeable solution in the future. When and how, I don't know."

Vanderpoel's fruit and vegetables on display.

Still a good location
Although the opening hours and outdated building are issues, the traders agree that the Early Market has a good location. "We are situated very centrally. People know where to find us. That is what makes us attractive", said Wim Vandepoel. "This location is more attractive than if you were to move to an industrial area. You can find everything you are looking for here."

Frank Valckenier also finds Mabru's location suitable for trading. "We are happy here", he said. "I think it is the same for everyone. Moving would also means extra costs. On the other hand, the market is very outdated. I don't know what the solution to the problems are."

The Mabru building.

Publication date: 9/20/2017


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