It might not seem that a 686,000-square-foot facility located in the fifth largest city in the U.S. is a ‘hidden’ gem. However, this is an apt adjective to describe the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM), according to John Vena, third generation family owner and operator of John Vena, Inc., one of 22 merchants on the market.
Vena certainly knows a thing or two about fresh produce in the City of Brotherly Love and its environs. His grandfather started the namesake company in 1919 in the city’s original colonial market on Dock Street, in what is now the Old City in historic downtown. In 1959, the company proudly moved into one unit at the newly opened Food Distribution Center in South Philadelphia.
Most recently, when the ribbon was cut on the state-of-the-art PWPM in 2011, the now four-generation-run company moved into four units. It wasn’t long until Vena, who has been at the reins since 1976, expanded into eight units, two of which have been customized into ripening and repacking facilities with SQF and organic certification.
Located less than a two hour drive south of New York City and five miles north of the Philadelphia International Airport, many people don’t realize that the PWPM is the largest fully enclosed, fully refrigerated wholesale produce terminals in the world. That’s what makes it a ‘hidden’ gem and a must-do NYPS bus tour.
Carol M. Bareuther, Contributing Editor of sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, spoke with Vena about what attendees can expect to see and experience.
John Vena Inc.
Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market
Q: Let’s start with some scene-setting background. How have you seen the produce industry in the Philadelphia market develop into what it is today?
A: The produce industry here has evolved in the same way most metro markets have. In the retail world, what used to be a market dominated by mom-and-pop shops has become a segmented hodge-podge of huge mega-corporations, well-established regional chains that have managed to maintain a foothold, and some intrepid start-ups.
There is still a strong independent faction of retailers, mostly serving urban and ethnically diverse communities. In foodservice, we’ve seen less consolidation with a diverse lot of local and regional distributors still sharing the market. Our business has certainly evolved to reflect this. We’ve found our niche in flexible service, which allows us to serve a wide range of markets at once.
We have reps that dedicate themselves to supporting everything from two-person jobber operations to buyers and supply chain managers for multi-billion-dollar companies. It’s a high-touch strategy, but it aligns with our values and has made us a stronger, better team.
Q: What would you say are the three biggest highlights of the PWPM and how this helps the industry meet 21st century demand?
A: The cold chain on this market is impenetrable – it’s truly industry leading. The flexible infrastructure in the building has allowed us to create multi-use spaces for ripening, repacking, and other value-added services, bringing another level of value to the market. Plus, this modern facility allowed us to build a robust food safety program. Without it, we would never have been able to accomplish an SQF Level II certification.
Q: That is certainly impressive. However, for anyone still on the fence about which NYPS bus tour to take, why do you recommend a visit to the PWPM?
A: Not only is our market the most innovative in the country — a fact worth the visit alone — it is a strategic place to do business. The facility is located literally right at the junction of I-95 and I-76, less than two hours from New York, and less than three from Washington DC, with easy access to the entire state of New Jersey where a large number of processing and cold-storage facilities are located.
Added to this is the nearby Philadelphia port facilities, so this makes the PWPM one of the most direct sources of imported fruit in the country. Whether buyers have an interest in FOB purchases or not, the market has something for them. At our company, for instance, we offer custom work beyond wholesale sales, including contract ripening and custom repacking like private label — and we deliver to boot.
Q: Could you give readers a sneak peek of what they will see on a tour of the PWPM?
A: The market itself is almost 700,000-square-feet of fresh produce wholesale. We provide an unbroken cold chain for customer’s dock level trucks with 228 doors. You will walk the Main Concourse, a naturally-lit, customer-friendly corridor providing access to each merchant. There are 10 towers providing ramp access to covered loading areas on either side of the market for customers loading vans and pickup trucks. Each of those towers also contains offices for the many brokers, customers, and transportation firms that work out of the market.
All traffic inside the market travels in clearly defined lanes, including pedestrian traffic, which has designated pathways. The market also boasts an award-winning waste sorting and recycling program housed in a 20,000 square foot facility just outside the main building.
Q: Finally, what is your advice as to what tour attendees should look for when they visit the PWPM, whether they are coming from the Northeast, rest of the U.S. or internationally?
A: The 22 merchants of the market are regularly trading with customers throughout the entire Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions as well as eastern Canada. We receive product literally from every production area in the world. The opportunities provided by the PWPM will be of interest to anyone in the industry from any region or country.
Many people have been attending The New York Produce Show and Conference for nine years now –it’s not a bad idea to spread one’s regional knowledge by taking a trip down to Philly!
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See the website at this link.
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Come to The New York Produce Show and Conference and SOAR all the way to Philadelphia.