Philadelphia distributors deal with slow produce economy

09/08/2009 05:06:56 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Storey said the move is long overdue.

“We need to get out of here,” he said. “The condition of this market is deplorable. All the sidewalks are cracked and weren’t made for the heavy equipment that rolls over them.”

Retail sales in the Northeast have kept steady.

“Retail is doing quite well or at least holding its own,” said Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer of Four Seasons Produce Inc., Ephrata, Pa.  “Volume is strong for the retailers and wholesalers that we sell to.”

Carkoski said he has noticed a trend of slightly less robust sales of value-added products such as packaged salads compared to higher-selling commodities such as head lettuce.

The slowing economy has taken its hits on foodservice sales.

“You go to the restaurants, it’s pretty scary,” said Tom Curtis, president of Tom Curtis Brokerage. “You can see how the money has tightened up. You wonder how these people exist.”

Jack Collotti Jr., vice president of Collotti & Sons Produce Inc., worries about repayment. He said produce sellers are seeing more slow-pays.

“Collecting money is slow and it’s worse than it ever has been,” Collotti said.  “Shippers are looking to get paid fast. The economy scares me for this reason: People are not able to pay their bills and stay ahead.”

Curtis said the slow payments issue “has turned into a real problem.”

He said it’s not worth trying to gain additional sales if the customer won’t repay. Curtis said many produce sellers are running into slow-pays and no-pays.

Sales to numerous ethnic groups remain strong, wholesalers report.

“We are handling more Hispanic items than in the past,” said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., which has been selling more tomatillos, cilantro, maradol papayas and specialty hot peppers. “These ethnic groups are becoming more important.”


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