As the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market starts its fourth year of operation, distributors say the benefits provided by the modern facilities are helping expand produce distribution to the heavily populated Northeast.
The market officially opened in June 2011 after wholesalers relocated operations from a decaying facility.
The nearly 30 distributors at the market are continuing to work to find new customers and expand their distribution, further increasing the facility’s capabilities, said Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc., Philadelphia.
“We are supporting our existing customers by providing them more products and are using this market to reach customers farther away than we’re used to,” he said.
The market is seeing many new faces as more new customers purchase their produce from the market’s members, said John Vena Jr., president of Philadelphia-based John Vena Inc.
Now secure in modern cooling facilities, merchants are now focusing on expanding business, said Vena, who is market board treasurer and chairman of the facility’s marketing committee.
“There are a lot of things my company is doing that we wouldn’t be able to do in the older building,” he said. “The market is now focused on regional activities.”
Those regional activities include participating in trade shows such as the New York Produce Show and reaching out to ethnic communities to encourage those retailers to develop better relationships with the market’s merchants, Vena said.
The market is working with small store owners through their trade associations.
“In a lot of cases, those small store owners don’t have a lot of confidence buying from the market but belong to a trade association,” Vena said.
“We have been able to develop relationships with those customers. It’s very difficult when there’s a language barrier, but we are encouraging new relationships with them so they can get the most value from the market.”
The doubters were proved wrong, said Mark Levin, co-owner of Philadelphia-based M. Levin & Co Inc.
“There were a lot of people that were skeptics who said we’d put a lot of money into the facility, it would cost more and we couldn’t make a living,” he said.
“When you figure what we lost in the old market because of lack of temperature control, bad handling, our shrink here is considerably less. We’ve made up a considerable amount on that.”
Market distributors are experiencing many benefits from distributing from the modern facility, said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., Philadelphia.
“The reason we built this place was to remain relevant to the produce industry as a wholesale market,” he said.
“We are seeing more trucks visit the market and we have more opportunities to do business that other people can’t because they don’t have the new facilities and can’t get lab certified. We’re able to jump through all the hoops that food safety is driving in the wholesale business.”
Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros Sales Corp. distributes from facilities on and off the market.
The terminal market is running well and helping boost distribution in the Northeast, said Mike Maxwell, Procacci’s president.
“It’s all about presenting something that looks good to our customers,” he said.