Economy tests Chicago produce market - The Packer

Economy tests Chicago produce market

12/11/2009 09:54:00 AM
Bob Luder

Grigas said some of the finer details he’s addressed to take care of business at World Wide have been to maintain a diverse customer base, especially when it comes to servicing the company’s many independent retailers, which serve a wide array of culturally diverse groups among the Chicago metro area’s 9 million inhabitants. That means keeping on hand a wide variety of commodities.

“This market (which opened in November of 2002) has changed a lot since the old South Water Market,” Grigas said. “People have a lot more room to deal in a lot more commodities.”

Mike Ruffolo, salesman at Michael J. Navilio & Son Inc. on the terminal, said his company, which deals primarily in specialty produce items, is selling the same amount of produce during the economic downturn, just not for as big a profit.

“People have to eat,” Ruffolo said. “I’m not saying we’re recession-proof. We’re selling the same, but we’re not making as much money. We’re holding our own, but I think that’s due to adding salesmen, adding commodities, working on customer service, getting our orders out properly.

“It’s how you manage your Xs and Os. Profit isn’t as high. We’re working on smaller margins. But people are still going to buy it.”

Extra challenges

Dave Watson, president and chief operating officer of Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., also on the terminal, said as much as the economy has hurt the produce marketplace, a couple of developments in the Chicago area produce industry have affected it even more.

Certified Grocers Midwest Inc., for instance, merged its business with Central Grocers Cooperative early this year.

Central Grocers, a large wholesale supplier of independent retailers and foodservice businesses in the Chicago market, then built a new facility in Joliet, Ill., and decided to source from outside the market.

“That took two large customers out of the terminal market,” Watson said.

Just another challenge for the “tough people” of the Chicago produce market to endure, he said.

“We just have to continually find ways to stay relevant to our core customer base,” he said.

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