Times have changed in Columbus, Ohio, where there are still 20 stalls on the Columbus Produce Terminal but not enough produce companies to fill it.
“There aren’t people knocking down our doors trying to get in the produce business,” said Jamie Sanfillipo, president and head buyer of Sanfillipo Produce Co., which purchased the terminal and competitor Macaluso Fruit Co. in December. Macaluso, which has been in business for more than a century, has continued to operate as a subsidiary of Sanfillipo but likely will be absorbed by its parent company next year, Sanfillipo said.
Sanfillipo Produce, which operated from two units when it moved to the market 10 years ago, now utilizes about half the available space. The other remaining produce companies are Great River, a local organic company, and Will W. Fischer & Son.
“There are less and less independently owned produce companies,” Sanfillipo said. “We’ve talked about turning into a food terminal instead of just a produce terminal.”
That transformation actually already has begun. Snowville Creamery, a Pomeroy, Ohio-based dairy, uses the market as a distribution center for the Columbus area. Sanfillipo would like to add more diversity with a seafood distributor, he said.
The produce scene in Columbus has changed drastically in recent years. Roth Produce merged with ProduceOne two years ago, and that company has since merged again with Cleveland-based Premier Produce and Specialty Foods to form Premier ProduceOne. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down one of the city’s other big players when it suspended Joseph Mercurio Produce Corp.’s Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act license.
Meanwhile, DNO Inc. moved off the market and into Mercurio’s old building in 2011, transforming from a small terminal market distributor to a fresh-cut operation with customers in seven states.
Sanfillipo said his family’s company has thrived by focusing on foodservice, which now accounts for roughly 95 percent of the company’s sales.
“We deal mostly with independent, small restaurants,” said Sanfillipo, who added that the company also provides product for country clubs and hospitals. “The economy in Columbus didn’t get hit nearly as hard as the rest of the state. We’ve had double-digit growth nearly every year for the last 10 years. There are always new restaurants opening in Columbus.”
Sanfillipo is planning for the long term and has begun making upgrades to the market, including a new paint job on the building’s exterior.
“We’ve tried to make a lot of improvements,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to do that.”