PHILADELPHIA — After years of struggle, distributors on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market are ready to move into modern operations.
After numerous delays, the market’s 26 wholesalers plan to begin operations in the 700,000-square-foot facility in early June.
Market officials originally planned to open last fall. That opening was delayed to January and then pushed back to April 3. Problems in the building’s refrigeration system forced postponing the move again. Delays in resolving the refrigeration pumping issue caused another rescheduling. In mid-May, the market announced a June 2 finishing of business on the old market with the new opening date scheduled for June 5.
Wholesalers remain elated about the move and say the new operation — which includes numerous modern produce receiving, storage, handling and distribution upgrades — will change produce wholesaling.
“We’re raising the benchmark for the rest of the world in terms of operations for produce sales, and it will be a benchmark unmatched,” said Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. “This new market will be a wonderful opportunity for all of us. It will take us to the 21st century. There will be nothing like this anywhere. It’s the market of our dreams.”
While the facility incorporates the latest in produce storage and handling advances, John Vena Jr., market board member and chairman of the facility’s marketing committee, said the operation remains practical for those conducting old-fashioned produce business.
“This is the future of fresh,” Vena said. “When you go inside, you won’t see a futuristic interpretation of how produce should be handled. This is a working marketplace. Our design combines the intimacy of those old cobblestone streets from when the city began as a hub for local farmers bringing their fresh produce. The building has the energy of old-school produce trading and enough technology and ingenuity to satisfy the most discriminating and sophisticated buyers across the country.”
Tom Kovacevich, general manager of TM Kovacevich-Philadelphia Inc., said the distributor has provided dozens of tours. He said words are hard to describe distributors’ elation.
“We are beyond excited,” he said. “What’s been exciting for me is seeing how excited our customers are. When the customers see the market, their jaws just drop.”
Distributors say the country’s newest produce distribution terminal should give a needed boost to the region’s produce business.
“This will hopefully energize the whole produce industry here,” said Todd Penza, salesman for Pinto Bros. Inc. “It will help open the door for people to buy fresh produce on the market. It will be a much more customer-friendly facility and one that brings more people in to get involved in buying the best produce.”
Distributors say the market has long needed improvement and that the new operation should benefit the younger generation of produce leaders that is arising to manage the market’s operations.
“This building is unbelievable,” said Richard Nardella, chief executive and financial officer of Nardella Inc., who helped push the idea of moving into a new market. “It is state of the art and will be everyone’s dream. Even the customers are excited. Everyone wants this thing to work.”
Distributors tout the new operation’s large refrigeration capacity and say the 700,000-square-foot plant should help them better serve the customers they distribute to within a 500-mile radius of Philadelphia.