PHILADELPHIA — The new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market features many modern handling improvements designed to make purchasing and delivery easier for its customers.

New market uses state of the art produce handling capabilitiesDistributors say they hope the investment in those changes will pay off with new business from major retail and foodservice buyers.

Customers can easily enter the facility, visit vendor stores and load their product, distributors say.

One of the changes includes the numbering of all the building’s doors and every truck bay and truck location under the outside shelters for smaller trucks. The numbering allows wholesalers to know precisely where each customer is parked.

The color coding of each company in the building also helps with efficiencies, said John Vena Jr., chairman of the facility’s marketing committee and president of John Vena Inc.

“This building is designed to be a marketplace, not a distribution center,” he said. “The biggest difference between this market and some of the more modern markets overseas is the size of this one. And the fact that ours is fully refrigerated.”

On a European vacation Vena took years ago, he visited some produce terminals that had enclosed and refrigerated markets, such as in Berlin, and other large markets that distribute produce regionally but didn’t have everything under refrigeration, such as one in northern Italy.

In contrast, Philadelphia’s operation is five times as large as the Berlin facility, he said, 

Each of the building’s 224 loading doors has a truck seal. The market has modified some bays to accommodate shorter trucks so the doors can fit trucks up to 12 feet high, Vena said.

The exterior shelters can accommodate all types of smaller trucks, and the market can unload flatbed trucks such as those carrying loads of onions. Each wholesaler has an air curtain-equipped door to accommodate merchandise unloading from the flatbed trucks as well as local and regional produce brought by area farmers.

Sid Richardson, vice president of market operations for Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., said he’s noticed a big improvement in the way truck refrigeration systems cool produce.

In the old market, it usually took nearly an hour for truck refrigeration systems to properly refrigerate just-loaded trucks.

This summer, in the hot summer sun, the trucks refrigeration units, which temporarily shut off when proper temperature was reached, run only 10 minutes before shutting down, he said.

“Before the truck would leave the market on a warm day like this, the trailer’s refrigeration unit would not stop for the driver’s hourlong trip,” Richardson said. “Today, it stops before the driver hits the highway. There are so many efficiencies right there in fuel.”

Another big improvement, Richardson said, involves the large quantity and volume of pick places on each wholesalers’ floor area where customers can receive their produce. In the old market, wholesalers often had to store customer product in the unit’s rafters. Today, instead of being limited to 30 pallets, vendors can store up to 70 pallets, Richardson said.

“This place is so customer-friendly,” he said.

Working in a modern facility has its advantages, said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc.

“There is not a distribution market environment like this,” he said. “You have big-box distributors that operate similarly but no one will have the quality and the variety and the service that you find down here at this market.”

Now that the market has the ability to become certified with best operating practices and comply with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point as well as standards and good agricultural practices, Wiechec said there is no other place as modern as the Philadelphia operation.

Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Bros. Inc., said he thinks the building is trendsetting.

“There is more room for customers to set up their orders before they load them on their trucks,” he said. “The building helps bring people here. But it’s the salesmen and the business owners themselves who can attract and maintain these customer relationships. But the new building certainly helps.”