Record commodity prices press distributors

03/19/2013 04:49:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

NEW YORK — The run-up of prices in early 2013 is causing headaches for New York-area distributors, who report more difficulty sourcing and selling product at record prices.

“Ever since Hurricane Sandy, things have been pretty hectic,” said Joe Granata, director of produce for RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J. “On top of that, you have the California freeze, which really put a spin on things. Product starting off the new year with California veggies were tight as were salads. It’s putting a challenge into selling other products.”

Prices on vegetables skyrocketed.

“Everything’s up across the board,” said Thomas Cignarella, president of Morris Okun Inc. “When was the last time you saw California with 20 to 30-degree weather? Florida tomato growers seem to have put in less for the winter, and it has never been a market. They get hurt. It’s kept demand a little strong with less volume, but they haven’t had the markets they used to have.”

Bruce Klein, marketing manager of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J., said he wonders whether high early 2013 prices are affecting consumption.

“With people talking about obesity and trying to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables, we hope it increases,” he said. “But with the cold weather, prices have been insane recently. A lot of the products coming from California are so high priced. It’s very challenging because you don’t want to get caught with large inventories of high-priced merchandise.”

Shortages contribute to challenges

Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc., said the new year began completely different than the previous year.

“This year, it’s completely the opposite of last year, when there was great availability,” he said. “Everything is hard to get. Last year, you could get pretty much anything you wanted and weren’t short of anything in terms of specialties. Everything was good in 2012, but toward the end of the year, things started getting tight, like baby lettuces.”

The high prices kept buyers from seeing deals on some items, including apples, said Jeff Young, a buyer for A&J Produce Corp.

“With the shortage of Hudson Valley apples, the local apples have been really high priced all year long,” he said.

Ira Nathel, president and vegetable buyer for Nathel & Nathel Inc., said many customers want to pay the least for the best quality and aren’t as interested in premium packs.

“When I started working for my father, he would say, you have to make sure this customer’s products are the best. Boxes have to be good because it’s going into those country clubs, which only wanted the best.

“With the economy and how things are tough, they’re also buying on price, price, price. What they’re trying to do is buy the Mercedes-Benz for the Chevy price.”



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