Effects of the recession linger in the Boston produce industry, but wholesalers are optimistic for 2012.
Maurice Crafts, salesman for Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, Mass., gave the current state of business a mixed review, with the glass half-full.
“It goes in fits and starts, but it seems to be getting better,” he said.
“Things are pretty good. I wouldn’t say anything earth-shattering is happening, but we’re good.”
To get from “fits and starts” to “pretty good,” however, seems to take a lot more work than it used to, Crafts said.
“You have to be creative, and you have to try a little harder,” he said.
“You have to be smart about things.”
One of the ways to do that, Crafts said, is to be super-efficient about inventory control.
“You have to keep everything moving and fresh,” he said.
A more competitive marketplace has made it more necessary for Coosemans and other Boston-area wholesalers to stay sharp, Crafts said.
“There are more people fighting for business,” he said.
“Companies that have never come here before, they’ve expanded into our area.”
Also, he said, companies are diversifying, selling more items than they did in the past, which also increases competition.
“There are a lot more people going to the same market.”
Lower vegetable prices than normal this winter, thanks to good growing weather in all regions, have kept Boston wholesalers like Chelsea-based John Cerasuolo Co. Inc. scrambling, said Ken Cavallaro, treasurer.
“Business is OK,” he said.
“When prices are higher, business tends to take care of itself. Prices are very reasonable now, which makes the work harder for us.”
That said, Cavallaro has high hopes for 2012 in general.
“Last year was a good year, and we’re hoping to see the same things for this year.”
This year was shaping up to be a good one for Chelsea, Mass.-based The Alphas Co., with one possible exception, said Yanni Alphas, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
“I see business picking up,” Alphas said.
“The only thing that could deter us is fuel costs. Transportation is out of control.”
As gas prices soar, more and more truckers are going out of business, Alphas said.
“It’s a pretty bad problem now,” he said in mid-March.
As bad as the situation is heading into spring, Alphas said, it will be much worse come summer. Fall and winter aren’t likely to provide much relief either.
“Costs will remain high, and it will very difficult” to find trucks, Alphas said.
High fuel costs aren’t the only transportation-related problems Boston wholesalers must contend with, Alphas said.
“A lot of trucks get into Boston and then they can’t get out.”
That’s not because of Chelsea’s pothole-ridden streets. Alphas said there isn’t enough outbound freight originating in Boston to make it worthwhile for many truckers coming in.
Steven Piazza, president and treasurer of Everett, Mass.-based Community-Suffolk Inc., said that despite the improving U.S. economic news, tough times were still being felt by Boston-area wholesalers.
“That’s what they’re saying in the newspapers,” Piazza said, citing recent reports of lower unemployment rates and other economy-related news.
“But it doesn’t feel that way out on the street.”
And “on the street,” Piazza said, also carries over to “on the terminal market.”
“Overall it’s been pretty quiet,” he said.
“Cash is very short out there in the world. Everybody’s very aware of value. If it’s a good deal, it gets a push.”
Friday to Monday traffic is still brisk on the market, Piazza said, but Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sales have been sluggish.
Community-Suffolk’s plan is to keeping grinding away during the cold months until the weather improves and prospects for produce consumption improve.
“We’ll trudge along until spring comes along and business picks up,” Piazza said.
Richie Travers, treasurer and secretary of Chelsea-based Travers Fruit Co., has been pleased with the timing of his and his brother Paul’s decision to form their own company last October.
The former Mutual Produce Inc. co-owners moved into space on the New England Produce Center terminal formerly occupied by State Garden Co. Inc.
“Business has been good,” Travers said.
“All of our suppliers followed us, and we’ve been very pleased with the reaction.”
The U.S. economy is still in a recession, as far as Travers is concerned. But the produce industry has an advantage over other industries.
“Everything goes bad and has to be reordered,” he said.
“We’re lucky to be in a good business.”