PHILADELPHIA — Distributors on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market say they’re pleased they have the produce industry’s attention.
Everyone in the industry, they say, is looking to them and how they were able to relocate from aging and decrepit terminal market operations to a modern facility which meets all buyer food safety and handling requirements.
“I think this market will be a showplace for the world,” said Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., which has operations on and off the market site. “We are an attraction for the produce industry in general. If you build a market in India, Russia or anywhere, you’re not doing your due diligence until you see what the newest market looks like and how it operates.”
Maxwell said market leaders traveled overseas and studied other markets and decided to move away from the traditional terminal market style construction and make the facility more of a retail store.
“This place is gorgeous,” Maxwell said. “Everything is under one roof and is the whole package. It’s the solution to a lot of our customers’ needs.”
Tenants say the operation interests everyone.
“We are so very proud of what we have here and am glad we spearheaded the whole industry in a venture like this,” said Richard Nardella, chief executive and financial officer of Nardella Inc. “You can’t say enough about this place. There are so many improvements.”
In the early 2000s, Nardella and Jimmy Storey, former president of the terminal association and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co., began the long process to relocate the terminal market.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world being here,” Storey said. “I’m proud of it.”
Nardella said many grower-shippers have toured the facility. He said they’re amazed at how many improvements the new market holds over the antiquated terminal.
Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., said he and John Vena Jr., chairman of the facility’s marketing committee and president of John Vena Inc., recently hosted some visitors from the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. He said the group expressed interest in import and export opportunities involving the market.
The board of directors of Shop-Rite Supermarkets, Edison, N.J., recently held its meeting in the market’s large conference room and retail managers from Bottom Dollar, a part of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group and sister banner to Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., also recently visited, Wiechec said.
“For the two months we have been here, we have had more visitors and more opportunities with national and international visitors walk through this market than I can remember having in 10 years on the other market,” Wiechec said.
“One of the things I’ve been telling people is that what this place has done for us is that we are able to take the excuses out of the produce business. There are less and less excuses people can use for not buying here, especially since we are more competitive in terms of price.”
All the changes should help attract more business, Vena said.
“We have been preparing for this facility for quite a while,” he said. “We have identified customer segments that we want to spend more time working on.”
Vena said the move has been time-consuming and hasn’t allowed the market the time to invest in creating or identifying new customers. He said the market plans to hire additional staff to seek such opportunities and help increase sales.
Wiechec said the market allows wholesalers to handle and distribute product so much more efficiently.
TM Kovacevich International Inc. has hosted many tours for retail and foodservice buyers.
“We have obtained new customers every single week,” Tom Kovacevich, general manager, said in mid-August. “We added three today. They’re learning about the facility. When they come, they’re so excited. If you’re in the produce business, you have to love this building.”