Latest research reviewing the UK's retail and wholesale markets in the 21st century showed that markets in major cities have largely outperformed the high street during the recession.
Markets 21, published by the Retail Markets Alliance (RMA), also found that food sales had held up better during the recession than non-food sales, with 58 per cent of market managers reporting no change in the number of traders selling food and 30 per cent reporting an increase.
The study, which was presented to the House of Commons last month, also revealed the sector's £7.6bn annual turnover — generated by 47,000 small and medium-sized businesses.
Report author Krys Zasada said: "It shows that markets matter. They bring richness and diversity to the high street as well as giving consumers choice and value for money. In this time of rising unemployment, they are also important in terms of the jobs they create — currently supporting almost 47,000 independent trader businesses."
The review follows the release in July of the Communities & Local Government select committee inquiry report into traditional retail markets, which said the key challenges facing markets were investment and management.
In response to the inquiry, last October the Government formally acknowledged the important role that traditional markets play in offering consumers good-value fruit and vegetables by agreeing to "champion" markets with a new body that will bring together key Government departments and market industry stakeholders.
Local government minister Rosie Winterton said: "Markets play a vital economic role in the local community from jobs and business start-up opportunities to offering cheaper produce and attracting shoppers into the town centre.
"While the rise of out-of-town supermarkets, internet shopping and the current economic climate have made life more difficult for markets, they still have the potential to thrive. That's why we have promised to champion the traditional market, raise its profile and ensure that the industry has a voice across Government policy."
Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) chief executive Nigel Jenney welcomed the focus on the importance of markets. "The FPC is pleased to see that there is greater support for traditional markets with the RMA and central Government's welcome initiative," he said.
"Central Government's agreement to champion markets is certainly promising and this report reveals the often unseen and significant potential for local markets to contribute positively within their communities both socially and economically."
He added that the UK's 1,124 traditional retail markets provide UK consumers with a wide range of affordable quality fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.