Recession depresses New York distributors - The Packer

Recession depresses New York distributors

04/29/2009 04:48:36 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

NEW YORK — Working in a city so dependent on Wall Street and the national economy, produce distributors said their businesses haven’t been immune to the slowing of the national economy.

The subprime mortgage credit crisis and the hedge fund debacle have contributed to the depressed economy.

Produce sales have declined, most reported. Most also say they don’t think the situation will improve anytime soon.

“Wall Street has been rocked,” said Jeff Young, a buyer for A&J Produce Corp. “That integrates itself into every aspect of every business. This is the first time ever that Wall Street has gotten decimated in such a fashion. This one is affecting more people in many levels and in more ways.”

Young estimates A&J Produce, which sells produce to retailers and foodservice purveyors who mostly purchase from its market location, experienced a 20% drop in sales in 2008.

Roni Okun, owner of Morris Okun Inc., said New York has been especially hard-hit.

She said she recently read a newspaper report that said some of New York’s Broadway theaters were closing or limiting productions because they weren’t seeing large enough attendance.

“Tourism as a whole has fallen tremendously,” Okun said. “Therefore, it will be a trickle-down effect. For the overall economy, people have to regain faith. There are many sectors of the economy that need to get back together.”

Though she said the government was trying hard, Okun said any fixes won’t be immediate and that national economic repair would be a long process.

Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, said there are towns in Long Island such as Garden City which have up to 40% of its residents working in the financial world.

“When you have a town of 30,000-40,000 people with 30% of them in financials, and half of them losing their jobs, that’s really tough,” he said.

Sam Steinfeld, a salesman at A&J, hears worries about the economy from produce buyers and wholesalers all the time.

“We are bombarded by the news constantly,” he said. “Everyone’s very cautious now because they’re hearing the same things over the news. They are buying, but with more caution than before.”

Steinfeld said produce buyers on the market are buying on a day-to-day basis rather than four days to a week in advance.

Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., and co-chairman of the Hunts Point Terminal Market, said produce usually does OK during economic slowdowns.

“Historically, we have done just fine during bad times, but we haven’t flourished,” he said. “When times are booming, it’s not like we’re booming. Everything goes up and down. Fruits and vegetables run by their own rules.”

D’Arrigo said people don’t eat more because they’re rich and they usually don’t eat less because they’re poor.

The national economy would have to experience a real extreme situation before people start eating less, he said.

The economic slowing has also affected Baldor Specialty Foods.

Though yearly sales have increased, sales weren’t what the Bronx-based distributor forecast, said president Mike Muzyk.



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