Although Cohen Produce Marketing celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, it has actually been much longer that the Cohen family has dabbled in produce.
Sam Cohen started peddling produce around the turn of the 20th century in the Hamburg, Pa., area. It wasn’t until his son joined him in 1935 that he started to deal in bigger quantities and ship by the truckload.
“He used to peddle seasonal stuff, strawberries in the summertime, cabbage in the fall,” said Sandy Cohen, the company’s current owner and Sam Cohen’s grandson.
“He established himself in this area (Aspers, Pa.) because this is where all the local apples were. He would come over here during the pack season, trade peaches, then work in local apples.”
The company is now a broker, shippers and exporter to about 20 countries, specializing in apples, pears, cherries and grapes.
“Over the years we’ve done vegetables and potatoes, but our business right now is 98% apples, pears, cherries and grapes,” Sandy Cohen said.
Until the late 1970s, the company was known as Raymond “Mickey” Cohen & Son Inc., named after Sandy Cohen’s father. Somewhere along the way, though, it started doing business as Cohen Produce Marketing.
The company got its start in apples with fruit grown in the East, but eventually began shipping Washington apples.
In the 1990s, it opened up a Washington office, its first satellite office away from its Aspers headquarters.
Tom Farris was an inspector for the company in Washington beforehand, and now runs the Washington office.
Raymond Cohen retired in 1988, and Sandy Cohen’s brother, Howard Cohen, joined the company in the mid-1990s in sales.
Sandy and Howard Cohen’s father died in 2005, but he left behind his lessons in produce.
“This is a business that’s constantly changing, and I think we’re going to see even more changes coming down the road,” Sandy Cohen said.
“As business has changed, we as brokers, shippers — whatever you want to call it — we need to be able to change with it.”
It is for that reason the company expanded in export.
“We started to export in the mid- to late 1970s,” Sandy Cohen said. “It’s grown ever since, and Howard has been instrumental in pulling that along.”
Even with all the changes, two key elements have been traditional in this business, he said.
“We’re extra service oriented. Retailers today, even wholesalers, are looking to buy direct thinking they can save. So what can we do? The only thing we can offer is our service,” Sandy Cohen said.
The other is ethics, he said.
“You have to be ethical,” Sandy Cohen said. “If you make a commitment to someone, you have to follow through, even if you lose out or draw.”