Produce sales prosper in Baltimore/D.C. region - The Packer

Produce sales prosper in Baltimore/D.C. region

06/20/2014 09:33:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

An extended winter of numerous storms dumping loads of snow and pelting the area’s road with ice disrupted fresh produce distribution in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., region.

When spring did finally arrive, however, distributors quickly recovered and returned to normal distribution.

The storms didn’t stop Savage, Md.-based East Coast Fresh from sending trucks on the road, said Ross Foca, president.

Courtesy Maryland Food Center AuthorityThe Maryland Wholesale Produce Market has seen steady business after a tough winter slowed movement. Distributors report strong demand overall in the region.“We cannot not deliver when it snows every day,” he said. “The storms were no longer just an event, they were becoming the norm. It required a lot of emergency planning. We had to make sure we had the right staff working so they could safely deliver to our customers.”

The severe weather hurt demand and movement, said Sal Cefalu, owner and director of Jessup, Md.-based CGC Holdings, the parent company of G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc. and Capital Seaboard.

The storms discouraged people from visiting restaurants, which temporarily slowed sales, he said.

“Like others, we had a trying winter but we got through fine,” Cefalu said. “There wasn’t any major downside in business for us and things seemed to hold up for us okay, which is a plus.

“So far, spring is good and we have enjoyed several solid Friday-Saturday-Sunday sales, which were good for business. The weather is cooperating and people are getting out. We are going into the second quarter with things looking very promising.”

The region is bustling with economic activity, said T.J. Rahll, operations manager of Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., in Jessup.

“Restaurants and grocery stores are crowded,” Rahll said. “There are new stores opening all the time. It doesn’t seem like a bad economy here. There are all kinds of plans for growth in the Baltimore and D.C. areas, so something must be good.”

Despite the hubbub of activity, Rahll said many consumers remain cautious.

Though there is a glimmer of hope that things are better than they were, many shoppers remain more careful about their spending and are keeping with a philosophy of financial caution, he said.

The region’ overall economy is also solid, distributors report.

“Baltimore, which had its downs years ago, is slowly rebuilding,” said Tony Vitrano, president of the Jessup-based Tony Vitrano Co. “There are a lot of tourist things going on and it’s becoming more and more of a tourist destination.”

Some new businesses are replacing older ones and while the Baltimore area doesn’t host the corporate headquarters it use to a decade or two ago because of declines, mergers and acquisitions, newer businesses are expanding and the overall economy remains favorable, he said.

Don’t expect to hear any complaints about the economy from Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc., in Washington, D.C.

“The produce economy has been good,” he said in early June. “We have been very busy. The economy overall seems to be going well, too. We have the government here that keeps everything artificially inflated and insulated from the rest of the country. There is a lot of business here in the government institutions which keeps everything moving.”

Rose Harrell, director of facilities for the Maryland Food Center Authority, which owns and operates the Jessup-based Maryland Wholesale Produce Market and the Maryland Wholesale Seafood Market, cites a healthy economy.

“Business has been very steady,” she said in early June. “Winter hit everyone hard. Though our tenants were hit pretty hard by the weather, they managed to make it through and are moving forward.”



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