It would be shame and, quite possibly, a sin to gather from people from every continent, save Antarctica, who are passionate about produce and keep them all in a convention hall or hotel the whole time.
As such, from the very beginning of The New York Produce Show and Conference, we have closed the event with a series of regional tours. One of the perennial favorites is the tour down to the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, where we have watch this market, the most modern in America, grow and mature — a process we have profiled in a series of pieces:
We asked Pundit Contributing Editor Keith Loria to find out what is in store for us on the Philadelphia Market this year:
John Vena, Inc.
Q: Last year the market was abuzz about the Philadelphia Eagles doing somewhat well, but this year the team has exploded to tops in the division with a 6-2 record. How much talk has been going on in the market about the team this year?
A: There is always a lot of talk about our Philadelphia sports teams on the Market, whether winning or losing. This year the talk is pretty hopeful.
Q: What are the biggest produce-related issues being talked about this year?
A: Mostly our merchants have been talking very positively about the economy and their expected results for the year. We have discussed the food safety management Act (FSMA), and we don’t really know what to expect there. Most recently, there is more and more talk about rising prices due to the water shortages out west.
Q: With the market continuing to grow, has anything new popped up since last year to pique the interest of attendees of The New York Produce Show and Conference who may be coming by for a tour?
A: Well if you haven’t visited our Market and you are in New York, our facility is a “must see.” The market opened in 2011 and is the newest major wholesale market in America, it embodies a unique design philosophy fully conscious of modern cold chain and quality control requirements. In addition, we have a couple of new companies on the Market and several of us have taken additional space. So what you can see is state-of-the-art and growth.
Q: What is the philosophy of the market and how do you ensure that the companies adhere to it?
A: Our success has been based on our ability to truly act as a “collective” for the good of our Merchants and our customers. Our ability to do this really became evident over 13 years ago when we began the planning for our new Market. We were able to come together and work for the greater good. This kind of thinking has prevailed, and even though we may disagree on many things, we have succeeded in this area.
Q: What would you cite as some of the biggest accomplishments of the market over the past 12 months?
A: Considering that many predicted we wouldn’t survive the overhead costs of our facility, and that we are thriving after three years, has been satisfying. In addition, we’ve had another new business join us and several have taken additional space. We have also developed and expanded our direct trade to Puerto Rico.
Q: What was the genesis behind this program?
A: This was really driven by a change in departure port by Horizon Lines. Our landlord, The Pennsylvania Regional Port Authority, spent many years promoting the advantages for steamship lines found in Philadelphia.
Q: Who is involved on the receiving end in Puerto Rico?
A: Fresh produce is being shipped to the top 4 or 5 retail chains and some foodservice distributors on the island.
Q: How is produce shipped there?
A:100 percent of the product is shipped by container via steamship.
Q: What have you noticed with your customer base? Has it changed at all? Is there a noticeable expansion in the range of customers, the number of customers, or the amount of business with established customers?
A: Certainly we have seen an expansion of our customer base, particularly among the ethnic communities in the region. Smaller, independent retailers seem to be growing both in number and size. In addition, we have some increase in activity from the larger regional buyers in both retail and wholesale.
Q: What would someone coming to the market for the first time learn?
A: That the concept of a lively, competitive “marketplace” is absolutely alive and well in Philadelphia.
Q: Where do you see the most buyer attrition and why?
A: Over the years, we saw a drop in street corner vendors and Mom and Pop stores, and that seems to be driven by the small amounts of fresh produce that business like that can actually move nowadays. However, there are signs that this may be changing in many urban neighborhoods.
Q: A challenge for any place is attracting new customers. What have you seen be effective in bringing people to the market?
A: The most effective strategies we have employed seem to be those of a “networking” nature, affiliations with regional trade associations like Eastern Produce Council, The Port Authority of Pennsylvania and The Chilean American Chamber Of Commerce based in Philadelphia.
We also maintain close ties to PMA and United Fresh. In fact, all these groups now regularly schedule events on site in our Market. These events have brought hundreds of industry people to see our Market and what we are capable of achieving. And we see real opportunity participating in regional events such as The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Q: Attendees to The New York Produce Show and Conference will include a number of chain buyers. Make a pitch to them about the market’s significance?
A: We have created the “Future of Fresh” and really showcase what can be done in a real “public-private” partnership. We have a vibrant, highly competitive “marketplace” where buyers of all sizes can benefit from a range of varieties, brands, services (including pre-conditioning and ripening to order) and with the added bonus of being able to select exactly what goes on your truck.
We operate in a cold-chain-protected environment that promotes product shelf life and safety. In addition, we have effectively maintained business growth, job growth and development in arguably the worst economy in decades. Keep in mind that no other “Market” like this one exists on the planet.
Q: What kinds of reactions did you receive from New York Produce Show attendees on last year’s tour?
A: First-time visitors always have the same reaction, comments like “awesome,” “wow,” “how did you get this done?” etc., are commonplace.
Q: What are some of the latest marketing initiatives to get the word out?
A: We will continue to promote ourselves in an “institutional” sort of way. Our Marketplace and our merchant mix are our strongest points. We are in this for the long term, so we plan to continue to work on relationships.
Q: What opportunities for growth still exist?
A: There are a surprising number of second-, third- and fourth-generation folks among our merchants. We have seen growth in the past three years, but for sure new technologies will create new, unknown opportunities. We are counting on our experienced leaders and this new blood to meet these changes and turn them to our advantage.
Q: What is it that you love about this market?
A: The best thing about our Market is the sense of accomplishment it has engendered among our merchants. It is empowering and energizing. We are well located and well positioned for the future!
If you haven’t seen the new market, you really should, regardless of what industry sector you work in. It is a cutting edge approach to a very old industry.
If you are already registered for the New York Produce Show but would like to add the Philly tour to your registration, please let us know here.
If you are interested in information on all of the tours — retail, wholesale and urban agriculture — please let us know here.
You can register for The New York Produce Show and Conference here.
Get hotels here.
Get information on the Spouse/Companion Program right here.
For those traveling from far and wide, we offer a special shuttle service from the Philadelphia Market to the Philadelphia airport if you want to fly home from Philly, or the bus will take you right back to the Hilton in New York.
See you in New York… and Philadelphia!