Recession hits Boston produce businesses hard - The Packer

Recession hits Boston produce businesses hard

04/03/2009 12:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

“Business is definitely off, and it’s economic-related,” said Steven Piazza, a salesman with Community-Suffolk Inc., Everett, whose business leans toward foodservice sales. “Restaurants are doing a little bit less, and it’s in turn affecting us.”

In lean times, Piazza said, it’s more important than ever for wholesalers to do their jobs well.

“It’s caused us to become better buyers and sellers, so we can provide better buys for the end-user,” he said. “It’s caused us to get lean and mean. And we hope that when we turn the corner (on the economy), we’ll be stronger than ever.”

However, Piazza said that corner isn’t in sight yet.

“It’s not easy to get to that point,” he said.

In February, it’s hard to gauge how much of a slump in business is recession-related and how much is seasonal-related, but there’s no doubt recession is at least a part of it, said Sam Rocco, president of BC Produce Inc.

“This time of year it’s slow anyway, so it’s hard to say how much it’s off (because of the recession), but it’s certainly off,” he said.

Piazza said he hopes his company’s improbable combination of experience and relative youthfulness will help it weather the economic storms present and still to come.

“Our average salesman is under 50 and has 20+ years of experience,” he said. “We’re not going to sit back and wait for (business) to come to us. As long as we can do that, we should be able to keep our volumes up.”

The nature of the Boston terminal markets’ predominant customer base has left them vulnerable in the recession, said Peter John Condakes, president of Peter Condakes Co. Inc.

“This market in general is weighted toward foodservice, and restaurants have felt the brunt of it,” he said. “Sales are off. We do have retail customers, and they seem to be holding their own.”

For “the first time in a long time,” Condakes said, word of layoffs is making the rounds of the New England Produce Center market.

Another effect of the recession is a lowering of the price ceiling on many if not most commodities, Condakes said.

“Whereas f.o.b.s may have gone up from $6 to $24 (before the recession), now maybe they’ll only go from $6 to $15,” he said. “Yes, they’re higher, but not as high. The demand side is very fickle at the moment.”

The current market climate has yielded a “magic number,” Condakes said: 99, as in 99 cents. Whether it’s an individual commodity or a packaged item, getting in under a buck is the marketing holy grail of the moment.

Just having a job in this economy is a reason to be thankful, said Bobby Nano, owner and president of Boston Tomato & Packaging LLC.

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