ST. LOUIS — Wholesalers and retailers agree the St. Louis Terminal Produce Market may not be the biggest or most modern terminal in the country but it remains a force in the region’s produce industry.
Dating to 1953, the terminal, affectionately called Produce Row by those who know St. Louis, has been in a rebuilding mode for a couple of years. New paint, new security fencing, new asphalt and a new market manager in the past two years have given the market a new face.
“We still haven’t bought all the property from the railroad that we plan to, but we have the OK to go ahead with the fencing on the back, and we are moving ahead,” said market manager Pat Kelley.
Kelley said the market is 100% occupied, even though the total number of companies on the terminal is less than it was 20 years ago. The terminal sits on a 31-acre site just north of the Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River. The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains an office on the terminal, as does Springfield, Ill.-based produce brokerage Tom Lange Co.
“The economy remains fragile, but Produce Row is very healthy and vibrant,” said Jeff Moore, vice president of the Midwest sales region for Tom Lange Co.
“Sometimes I think locally and regionally this terminal flies under the radar. People don’t seem to know about it, but anyone in retail or foodservice in this area who doesn’t know about Produce Row should find out about it.”
One of the things that keeps the terminal market so high in Moore’s esteem is the quality of produce available there. He said by maintaining an office on the terminal he and other buyers can see what they are getting and the wholesalers can see what the competition is doing.
“I think it keeps the costs low here because they see what each other is doing, and they have to respond to keep their customers,” Moore said.
That high quality keeps retailers like Straub’s Markets coming back, said Greg Lehr, produce buyer and category specialist for the local chain of four up-scale grocery stores. He said Straub’s gets almost half of its fresh produce from the terminal market.
Mike O’Brien, vice president for produce and floral for the St. Louis-based Schnucks Markets, said his chain also does a significant amount of business with Produce Row companies.
“They frequently offer us things that other suppliers can’t,” O’Brien said. “Specifically their value-added items, like chopped onions, give us and our customers what we need.”