(Dec. 3) MEXICO CITY — Alto, con permiso, cuidado, ahí le voy!

Stop, excuse me, watch out, here I go!

These are probably the most common Spanish words visitors hear when walking through the 840 acres of dusty concrete floor that make up the largest wholesale market in the world, the Central de Abasto (CEDA) in Mexico City.

CEDA is 51 times the size of Mexico City’s Zocalo, considered the third-largest public square on earth — not just in size, but in revenue as well, with 17 banks on the market.

“The market has 340 hectares (840 acres). There are 5,000 small businesses, and there is a revenue exchange between 8 (billion) and 9 billion dollars annually,” said Raymundo Collins Flores, general director and administrator of the CEDA.

Walking through the 16 corridors that make up the fruit and vegetable section of the market, one can appreciate hundreds of stalls, containing huge amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits from the top growing areas in Mexico.

Even though the majority of the produce sold in CEDA comes from Mexico, one can find a variety of products from different parts of the world. The market sells produce from the U.S., New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and parts of Asia, although the amounts aren’t tracked.

If you happen to be one of the 300,000 people who visit the market every day and feel like buying fresh U.S. produce, the market sells U.S.-grown apples, potatoes, purple onions, grapes and pears.

Growers and shippers display tomatoes, avocados, onions, potatoes, bananas, apples, pears, watermelons, cantaloupe — you name it, its all in here and in huge quantities. “Stack them high” seems to be the motto here. A wall of neatly stacked watermelons are impressive.

“The market supplies 80% of the total food that Mexico City citizens consume,” Collins said.

30,000 TONS OF FOOD DAILY

The CEDA plays a very important role in the food supply of more than 23 million people Mexico City’s metropolitan area. The produce area is the largest of the market’s five sections, wich also include floral, meat and dairy.

According to CEDA’s website, 30,000 tons of food is handled each day in the market, and more than 122,000 tons of food are stored here.

“Everyone comes here: Wal-Mart, Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, Gigante, Chedraui. They all have their own contracts with the producers in the market, and in turn, producers send their trucks full of produce to large parking spaces of these retails chains,” said Alberto Carrasco, coordinator for planning and development for CEDA.

The market caters to all segments of the supply chain, from consumers looking to stock their pantries for the week, to owners of abarroterias (small food stores) and restaurant owners. It’s also a stopping point for fruits and vegetables distributed to the 312 public markets in Mexico City.

Some owners of the stalls on the market grow their own produce, others buy their produce from growers, while others bring their trucks full of produce with the hopes of selling it, with most of these shipments sold by the ton.

Collins said that 40% of Mexico’s crops are marketed here.

Buyers, pushing or pulling dollies and carts loaded with cartons of fruits and vegetables, are a common scene, with more than 10,000 daily runs on the market. These men are hired by growers and shippers and are considered the market’s life blood flow.

“From now on these guys wear a tag, with their color ID,” Carrasco said. “We do this to improve security around here.”

FIESTA TIME

On Nov. 22, Mexico City’s Central de Abasto celebrated its 25th anniversary with a colorful fiesta that included a taco fest for 1,500 people, floral and fruit displays, singers, wrestlers and mariachi music.

The market is scheduled to host the first World Union of Wholesale Markets April 21-25, with markets in more than 40 countries expected to participate.

“All of us get together and we talk about our problems, we exchange ideas,” Collins said.

Also in 2008, Mexico City is scheduled to have FLAMA, Federación Latinoamericana de Mercados de Abastos (Latin-American Federation ofWholesale Markets).

“We do this to strengthen our role of wholesale distributors located in 240 cities in Latin America. We would like to establish custom check points inside the markets and to better our produce quality to compete worldwide,” Carrasco said.

Mexico’s  super market may be world’s largest
More than 30,000 tons of food is handled each day in the market and within its walls the market has the capability to store more than 122,000 tons.