NEW YORK — In the Big Apple, produce sales, like other items in the consumer economy, aren’t selling as well as they have in the past.
Wholesalers blame the slump on the dragging economy.
“Everyone’s complaining that it’s not as busy as last year,” said Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc. “There’s no business and the restaurants aren’t as busy. New York City is definitely feeling the economic pinch.”
Shoppers view produce in Queens at one of the New York's many produce markets. New York-based produce wholesalers say sales have fallen.
While produce sales in January and February are usually slower than normal, Badalamenti said he fears the months will be much quieter than normal.
“There are a lot of people collecting unemployment that have to get jobs after a year of being unemployed,” Badalamenti said. “I feel the economy will get worse unless they try to boom it up.”
Purchasing habits are changing for retail and foodservice customers.
Changing buying habits
“No one is speculating on anything. They’re just buying what they need,” said Richard Cochran, president of Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc. “Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop in the whole economy.”
Cochran said every customer is probably down 10% or more on their orders.
A smaller retail chain operator, Jay Kim, owner of South Salem-based Greenwich Produce Inc., buys produce from the market. He said he has noticed slower purchasing.
“Sales used to be good, but not anymore. It’s all over,” he said. “Buyers in the market are all complaining, but there’s nothing they can do.”
Distributors in the surrounding suburban areas worry about the street business, the independently- owned restaurants, caterers, delicatessens, bagel stores and small-scale business and industry accounts.
“Street business is still a piece I’m very concerned about,” said Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, “They are struggling. They really are. People are going to a number of different distributors, and price is very much on their minds.”
Workers move boxes of produce on the Hunts Point Terminal Market.
Panagakos said J. Kings is responding by trying to offer the products that provide the distributors the greatest value.
A high 10% unemployment rate worries distributors such as Jeff Young, buyer for A&J Produce Corp.
“People are just treading water now,” he said. “The country is still in a recession. Everyone says business is slow. Whenever you talk with anyone, they ask you when business will pick up. That has been a common thread through this last year. Everyone is slow.”