New York is about doing things big, and in produce; few things are bigger than the Hunts Point Produce Market. To spend a moment on the walk is to stand at the center of an ingathering from across the globe. It is to see new products unveiled and new brands experimented with. It is to see capitalism in action and produce trading at its purest. There is nothing quite like it, and if you haven’t been there, or haven’t been there recently, now is the time to go.
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get us a preview of what Hunts Point would show visitors from The New York Produce Show and Conference tour:
Joseph Fierman & Son
Bronx, New York
Chairman of Hunts Point PR Committee
Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association
Bronx, New York
Q: You’ve both been major advocates in rebranding the Hunts Point Produce Market’s public image to better convey its vital importance to millions of consumers in the Tri-State area, as well as to a vast number of retailers, restaurants and foodservice buyers, wholesalers, growers and distributors, and the local business community.
What should attendees at the New York Produce Show know about Hunts Point Market before they come for a visit? What will they experience on the tour?
A: FIERMAN: You’ll see the most diverse, colorful display of produce from all 48 contiguous states plus Hawaii and countless countries around the world. For some suppliers, it’s to see how their product is sold and for others, it’s to meet customers face to face. You’ll see the action, the bargaining, and the overall general excitement of walking into the largest market in the world. It’s reminiscent of being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
A: GORDON: It’s a very unique experience. There’s a dynamic energy that flows through here, and it’s easy to get caught up in it… but I never tire of it. It’s fast-paced. I tell people to be cognizant of trucks being loaded and unloaded, jacks going back and forth. You’ll see everything in motion with the diversity of ethnicities because New York is a melting pot…Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Syrian, Indian… you’ll hear all the languages being spoken here. It’s like being on the streets of New York, a microcosm and mirror of New York.
I warn newcomers that it can be instant-overload and a lot of stimulation. If you’re coming from a small town in the Midwest, the contrast can be surprising.
Q: What kinds of reactions did you receive from New York Produce Show attendees on last year’s inaugural tour?
A: FIERMAN: Growers and shippers coming to Hunts Point Market for the first time were amazed at what went on here. That was key amongst all the reactions — the scope of product, how product was marketed, and how it was handled. They were not only surprised but impressed.
People’s overall view of the market if they haven’t been here is to think of a little farmer’s market somewhere. It is not until you experience the amount of product, the physical size of the market and the hustle-and-bustle of people moving through the market can you really understand.
A: GORDON: There was so much interest and loads of questions people were dying to ask. Matthew D’Arrigo, Joel Fierman and I did our best to provide all the answers. Merchants are invited to participate when they can, but it’s a business day and the market is in full swing.
Q: Why is Hunts Point Market so important?
FIERMAN: This market covers the whole Tri-State area plus distant wholesalers use us as a source for certain imported and specialty product. There are tens of millions of people it reaches and serves. Because of the diversity in ethnicity in this area, not any one store can supply everyone’s needs, but this market puts it all under one roof, which no one distributor can accomplish.
At first, the market came with 137 merchants, but now with the consolidation of the market, we’ve gotten more high profile firms that service the community at the highest standards. What is unique is the overall scope in terms of the amount of product that passes through the market every day; it’s substantial.
A: GORDON: There’s never a shortage of supply, the items just come to us. Growers need to know that on the Market of 40 merchants, they need to find the two or three that best fit their offerings, and whether or not there is a niche. If everyone is selling broccoli, the holes are filled. There’s no room for another broccoli producer. Merchants here are loyal to their shippers for the long term.
We would love to have retailers in the market and to become customers. The market always avails itself for people who want to walk through, and merchants are always willing to work with customers and help them get the right products for their customer base.
Q: Have your marketing campaign efforts to boost the image and awareness of Hunts Point Market generated renewed interest?
A: FIERMAN: Recently, the market has been able to reach the public in a more positive light than it has in the past. New innovative tools like websites, our television commercials with Tony Tantillo the “fresh grocer”, and spectacular events like partnering with the American Cancer Society for our Knock Out Cancer fundraiser have enhanced community relations. These are new things that the Market has embarked on, but we’ve always been proactive in giving back to the community and working with City Harvest and Foods for Survival.
In the past few years, as we’ve been reaching out more to communities, it has served dual purposes — a renewed interest in local and tri-state areas and a viable source for great product.
Consolidation of the supermarket industry has created diversification for the green grocer to fill in niches the big box stores can’t accomplish alone. By making the market more visible, we’ve begun to attract new customers that lost site of what this market is — a true open wholesale market.
Q: How has Hunts Point Market balanced tradition with modernity?
A: FIERMAN: There’s a little bit of old school within the new technology. A handshake still works, but now you get a piece of email on top of it. You have people you can talk to here; you’re not walking into a computer order entry.
You see and talk to people directly responsible for selling you that product. While we’ve become tech savvy, the human factor is very important here; the ability to view product, get personalized service and value. Technology has played an amazing role in the industry, and we embrace it. The market has progressed while still maintaining a personal quality.
A: GORDON: We’ve been around since 1765, and the more things change the more they stay same.
Q: In closing, why should people come to tour Hunts Point Market?
A: FIERMAN: If they don’t come, they’re really missing one of the key landmarks of New York. I always say, there’s the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the United Nations, and Hunts Point Market!
In 1967, the Prevor family made its pilgrimage over the East River and moved its produce operation from the old Washington Street Market to the then brand new Hunts Point Market. What working on that market taught us was, among other things, it is absolutely indispensable.
It was indispensible to the metro New York region because the market served as the distribution center for all the independents and local restaurant and retail chains. The ability of these independents to thrive depended crucially on the efficiency and quality of their distribution center — Hunts Point.
It was also indispensible to the grower/shipper community. Although growers and shippers often claimed to have markets that would pay better, one quickly learned that this wasn’t very meaningful. One issue was that others might pay better — but only for particular sizes or grades. It turns out that retailers buy what they want, and Hunts Point would help growers sell what they needed to sell. That was, and is, a big difference.
Another issue was volume. It was almost certainly true that a wholesaler in a small city would pay more, but he would buy only the volume that his chain customers required. Hunts Point is unique in its ability to move massive volume. With the large number of small purveyors, small fruit stores, etc., the market is more flexible to price than most places in the country. So offer a good deal and all the sudden each independent is promoting.
It would be inconceivable to not offer a tour of Hunts Point as part of The New York Produce Show and Conference. Last year’s tour was a big success, and if you are in the produce industry and haven’t seen Hunts Point, you are missing a crucial experience that will lead to better understanding of the modern produce trade.
If you would like take the tour of Hunts Point, please let us know here.
Register for anything at The New York Produce Show and Conference right here.
Hotel rooms are available here.
And travel discounts here.