With a full roster of vendors, the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market still strives to meet the produce needs of an increasingly diverse set of consumers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
While no major facility changes are anticipated in the near future, Gary Decker, named market manager of the Jessup, Md.-based facility in February 2017, said that the 7-acre facility is going to soon be moving forward with a project to put LED lighting in place under the produce docks.
Filling about 100 units, there are 28 produce companies on the market, Decker said. Despite the trend for large retailers to buy direct, he said the wholesale market still has big produce volume going in and out of the facility.
While the website lists posted hours of 10 p.m. to 3 p.m. for Sunday to Friday, he said customers come to the market 24 hours a day, depending on the vendor.
The market is an important hub for local and regional produce, said Tony Vitrano, president of the Tony Vitrano Co., housed in the Jessup market.
“We’re talking about a pretty large area — not just the state of Maryland — but New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and even Ohio (produce) we can get within 24 hours,” he said.
Regional produce quality has steadily improved over the years, he said.
“It’s to the point where the local products improved that much that the pricing makes it advantageous,” he said.
Freight rates of $8,000 to $10,000 from the West Coast compare with much lower truck costs and overnight delivery from regional growing regions, he said.
“That makes a huge difference and is reflected in the price,” he said.
Independent retailers, including Hispanic retailers, continue to grow in influence on the market, he said.
The Washington and Baltimore area seems to be doing pretty well economically, he said, which helps the market.
“There are a lot of independent stores out there that are supporting the markets here,” he said.
“Some groups might have started off with one or two stores and now they are up to five to 10 stores,” he said. “They seem to be really thriving in this area.”
Operating in the market is more of a service business than ever, Vitrano said.
“(Customers) aren’t coming to the market that much and you’re talking to them (on the phone) if you’re lucky,” he said. “A lot of times you’re just Internet, e-mail, faxing or whatever and you have to deliver now,” he said.
“We’re delivering more than we ever had before and I see that continuing to increase now,” he said.
Foodservice demand tends to be stronger in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region compared with Baltimore, Vitrano said.
It is a tale of two cities, he said.
“The Washington area seems, because of all the government growth the past 20 to 30 years, it still seems to be growing pretty (strong),” he said.