Once again, participants in the New York Produce Show and Conference had an opportunity to go on many regional tours, including an official post-show tour of several retail markets in nearby Newark, New Jersey. The tour also included a visit to AeroFarms, the world’s largest indoor vertical farm, built in a 75-year-old, converted 70,000-square-foot steel mill. Susan Crowell, a contributing editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, talked with tour organizer Susan McAleavey Sarlund, executive director of the Eastern Produce Council, who has also been involved with the New York Produce Show since it started, to get some highlights of what was covered in the tour.
Susan McAleavey Surland
Eastern Produce Council
Q. What were the stops on this year’s New Jersey Retail Tour?
A: We kept it close to New York because of time constraints. We visited retailers Morton Williams Supermarkets and Seabra’s Market, and AeroFarms. Participants got a real flavor and taste for the passion of the produce marketplace in the metro NY area. They saw firsthand how items are merchandised at the store level, and topped it off with a tour and luncheon with the co-founder and chief marketing officer of the world’s largest vertical farm. It was not to be missed!
The Morton Williams store in Jersey City is neighborhood store. They know their clientele, and offer produce selections that cater to their neighborhood and customers — and they do a great job of merchandising produce in their space. In the metro NY marketplace, there are a lot of personalities and there’s a rich flavor of clientele these retailers are catering to, and they do a really good job of it at Morton Williams. Marc Goldman, the director of produce at Morton Williams, is a member of the Eastern Produce Council board.
Seabra’s Market, which is amazing, is based in Newark. The family-owned store was founded in 1971 by a Portuguese immigrant, Americo Nunes Seabra, and they do a tremendous job of catering to the Portuguese community, and even run shopping shuttle buses from NY metro area. We toured the entire store, with a focus on the produce department where you’ll see a lot of different items that you may not always see at a retailer.
We also see a plethora of other items they offer their customers, including their large seafood department, and the meats department, which includes an on-site butcher, where we saw the meats hanging behind glass. It’s just an authentic, family business that has a true focus on their marketplace in the metro New York region.
We’ve gone for many years, met owner Antonio Seabra, along with Filipe Silva, director of produce, and other key team members. It is always such a special experience.
The people who meet us at these stores are so invested in these companies, and what they’re doing, and they’re just great ambassadors for the markets. They’re passionate about what they do in the produce industry and want to give back and share their stories.
Q. In addition to the retailers, tour participants had the unique opportunity to visit AeroFarms. Tell us a little bit about that stop.
A. AeroFarms is truly a unique and amazing experience for someone to have. The Newark R&D farm is the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. It uses proprietary aeroponics in its commercial indoor farms that raise produce year-round in a controlled environment. They sell at Seabra Markets, so we’ll see their packaging at the retail level.
In addition to the tour, we were able to visit their innovative warehouse/office space, and be treated to a conversation with Marc Oshima, co-founder and chief marketing officer, who is a member of the Eastern Produce Council.
We were also served lunch at AeroFarms, featuring their greens. It was simply iout of this world. I can still taste it — so fresh and delicious.
It was a one-in-a-million opportunity to see something like this firsthand. You can hear about it, you can read about it, but until you go through it and see it, you won’t understand how truly spectacular it is. Their technology and operation is at the forefront of the produce industry, and they’re proud to share what they’re doing with us. Just as The New York Produce Show and Conference is so proud to have been able to bring attendees this opportunity!
During this pandemic year, who could we count on? The question was top of mind. The answer, soon crystal clear, was Susan Sarlund and the whole board at the Eastern Produce Council.
When we launched the New York Produce Show and Conference, Susan’s father, John McAleavey, was by our side, as we wrote then:
John was from another time and, perhaps, that was the reason we always got along so well. For it has been said that this Pundit was born in the wrong age. So, together, thinking of nothing but how to do things the right way, doing things the best way, we embarked on a journey that led to the creation of this event, this industry institution.
We cannot think of John’s daughter, Susan, without remembering something else we wrote at the time:
…for great men pass on duties to those they leave behind, and they pass on a willingness to perform the labors required. They also pass on honor, and those who had the privilege of knowing such a man are forever changed and made better for having basked in the reflected glow of a life well-lived.
A single tour may seem a small thing, but knowing the right places to stop, earning the place in people’s hearts that they want to help you… these are not simple things, and the example set is sometimes the most valuable lesson to be learned.
We are very lucky to have Susan and the EPC by our side… even more fortunate to count them as friends.