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.