Outdated wet markets to clean up their act

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2002, 12:00am

Traditional wet markets will be given a facelift to compete with the fast-growing supermarket giants, according to government proposals.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the facilities and management of some of its 82 wet markets, with more than 16,000 stalls, were 'rather outdated'.

Officials are trying to turn the markets - notorious for their putrid air, poultry droppings and slippery floors - into a better place to shop.

They believe customers may soon be able to enjoy a relaxing break at a coffee corner and carry their goods by trolley in an air-conditioned environment.

Private operators said organising so-called 'theme' markets, such as seafood or vegetable markets, could be an exciting proposal.

A government-commissioned study, conducted by international consultancy firm KPMG, has recommended that wet markets be contracted out to private companies with extensive property management experience.

The consultancy report criticised the poor hygiene and tiny size of stalls in traditional markets. Only 13 department wet markets are air-conditioned.

The department plans to contract out the management of several markets with 'good business potential' to private operators early next year. In another pilot scheme launched this year, the department hired market managers to run four wet markets.

The reform comes as supermarkets are increasing their market share, making it urgent for traditional wet markets to find a new way to survive.

In May, a pork price war broke out between two major supermarkets, Wellcome and ParknShop, with prices slashed to an average of $19 per catty - about $5 less than in wet markets.

The consultancy's survey of 2,000 people's buying habits found 30 per cent shop more in supermarkets, where they buy grocery, canned foods and dairy products.

Another survey said shoppers are buying more of their fresh meat in supermarkets. Taylor Nelson Sofres' (TNS) consumer panel, which tracked the food and buying habits of 1,000 households for the first and third quarters of this year, found wet markets' share of fresh meat sales fell from 87 to 78 per cent.

ParknShop increased its share from seven to 14 per cent, and Wellcome's slice rose from four to six per cent.

The department's deputy director, Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen, said some wet markets were built in the 1950s and 1960s and their outdated designs made renovation difficult. 'Unless we spend a lot on a facelift, it is very difficult to bring these old markets up to today's standard,' she said.

Mrs Lai said contracting out market management would bring in expertise from property management elites.

'For example, private operators can run the markets like commercial shopping malls and organise promotional activities to attract customers,' she said.

The consultancy report also noted an overlapping of wet markets in some districts. But Mrs Lai admitted it was difficult to close them.

'We have to take care of the stall owners' livelihood, especially during such a difficult time in the economy,' she said.