Nardella's RJ Durante talks sales strategy during coronavirus
Richard "RJ" Durante of Nardella Inc. at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market talks family business and sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. ( Amy Sowder )

Richard “RJ” Durante, 32, may not have the decades of muscle memory that many of his colleagues surrounding him at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market do, but he's been around for a few significant market dips, dives and jumps.

The salesman and food safety director of Nardella Inc. is old enough to remember 9/11, the dot-com boom, the housing market crash and recession.

Now, he's planning his next moves to navigate through this coronavirus pandemic with its staggering unemployment and uncertain market.

“It really means something to me that these guys had to learn how to respond to all of it, how to make sure that food still got on the table, how make sure that groceries were still stocked at the end of the day. That’s the testament there,” Durante said. “They’re like: This happened, what’s next, how do we respond? There’s no time for panic. There’s no time for second-guessing.”

On tighter budgets, many consumers are opting for more staple produce over higher-end items that tend to be impulse buys.

“Customers, they are already picking and choosing what they’re going to buy to begin with,” Durante said. “Oh, are we having avocados for X dollars or a pound of rice for X dollars? That kind of give and take. It’s been interesting to see how companies maneuver, like ours.”

Some companies who worked with foodservice customers are making bags of groceries. Others, Nardella included, are being a little more lenient on the typical timeline with customers who owe them invoice payments.

Also, the wholesale market itself is safer than ever, he said.

The market has reduced hours for beefed-up janitorial and security crews to do more work. Everyone entering the gates is required to wear a mask.

But customers, including the general public, are encouraged to come by and shop.

“You can buy from us. We’re pretty friendly. We’re doing everything we can for safety,” Durante said.

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