The big concern for New York and other distributors in the Northeast this year has been bad weather.
From December to early April, a series of more than a dozen storms brought heavy snow, ice and prolonged weeks of abnormally cold temperatures disrupted distribution of fresh produce to the region’s many retail and foodservice customers.
“Without a doubt, this is the worst winter we’ve had in years,” said Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc. “I don’t think we’ve had a winter like this in a decade.”
As few feel like braving the cold, D’Arrigo said the storms kill demand.
As consumers prepare for the storms, D’Arrigo said the storms bring small spurts of increased business.
However, suppliers see long periods when they do little business during and after the weather disruptions because shoppers don’t need to purchase more goods, he said.
“The whole world contracts when it gets really cold out,” D’Arrigo said. “The stores all shrink their shelf space and none of the sidewalk displays are out. The restaurants see fewer customers. It’s tougher.”
The storms also take a toll on workers who feel mentally drained, said Joe Granata, director of produce for RLB Food Distributors LP in West Caldwell, N.J.
“This has been a brutal winter,” Granata said “It’s been crazy and has been a real challenge. It’s been difficult not only getting trucks out but also getting products here as storms in the Midwest and ice in Atlanta have delayed trucks from the South.”
Usually, the region receives some relief or a break after a storm hits, but this year, the storms hit one after another, he said.
Despite the challenges, Granata said RLB was able to deliver products to the retail, specialty stores and convenience store businesses it serves from Massachusetts to northern Virginia.
The harsh weather also fatigued distributors.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I’m getting a little weary,” Jeff Young, a fruit buyer for New York-based A&J Produce Corp., said after the 11th storm, in February. “Cold is good for the business as the citrus and other items move well, but once you get into the single digits, it has a reverse effect that really stops the flow.”
Distributors on the Hunts Point Terminal Market typically experience a small increase the day before a storm strikes.
Once they hit, however, the storms impede transportation and becomes a day of business that distributors never make up, Young said.
“Sales have been OK, but the storms definitely hurt the rotation and the trucks,” said Mike Cochran, sales manager and vice president of New York-based Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc. “The customers don’t want to come out in the snow and people try to buy a little extra ahead of time. But it definitely hurts.”
Never closed for the weather
The storms challenged distribution but Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., New York, worked with its customers to ensure deliveries, said Mike Muzyk, president. The foodservice distributor diverted product it would normally send to the closed private schools, he said.
“We have never closed because of the weather though we have had some of our competitors call and tell us they’re closing,” Muzyk said. “We have always been able to manage through it and have enough alternative solutions for the chefs and we find they are very reasonable during a snowstorm.”
If a chef demands a certain variety of spinach, Baldor may not be able to deliver its entire spinach offerings but it offers to substitute varieties or packs to meet their customers’ needs until the storm passes, he said.
Baldor’s spinach offerings include flat leaf California spinach, a local curly spinach, four-count 2.5-pound triple-washed spinach, 12-count 10-ounce cell spinach as well as hydroponic and organic baby spinach.
“It’s not fun, but we’re getting the product delivered,” said Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J., said during the storms in February. “Maybe deliveries have been a little late, but we’re doing it.”
The frigid weather scared away customers, said Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc.
“The storms screwed up everything,” he said. “We are usually busier during this time, but this January and February wasn’t as good as last year. Everyone’s complaining. When the shippers start calling you very early in the morning to give you items, you know they’re not busy either.”