Terminal market wholesalers in U.S. discuss business environment in Covid-19

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Produce BusinessUK sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS set out to poll various leaders on the wholesale terminal markets in the United States to give the industry a glimpse of what is happening in various metro areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Activities on these markets change rapidly each day, but the responses below reveal a steady determination to supply the needs of its most populous cities and to also take care of the needy. To get a feeling of the magnitude and fluidity of the situation, we highlight some recent comments from Tommy Piazza, who is the Director of Potato Procurement and Marketing at Community-Suffolk, Inc., in Boston:

"This pandemic has been so contrary to our way of life. It has effected the balance of our lives entirely. To preface, please understand that the way business is today is much different from the first month of this tragedy. Initially there was the boom in business like that before a snow storm. People flocked to the supermarkets to grab all the basics — and then some. There was an urgency that I had never experienced before. The chains could not keep produce on the shelf. As fast as it was stocked, it was emptied. This led to a giant rush on many of the staple items in the produce department, especially in the comfort food category and of product that would store well. Consumers would buy extra and postpone their next trip to the supermarkets.

Potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, etc., were being pulled from the terminal markets in substantial volume — with unprecedented demand and volume! Things went on like that for a solid month or longer, but since then..... much has changed. The produce fast track had proven to be effective, and KUDOS TO ALL OF US WHO KEPT IT ROLLING, but eventually supply caught up and in many cases now surpasses demand."

Today many states are opening restaurants on a limited basis, and retail stores are seeing less hoarding and more regularity in produce shopping patterns. Terminal markets continue to represent a barometer of the produce industry.


SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO

Peter Carcione
President
Carcione's Fresh Produce Co., Inc.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: All produce is selling well. The greens, such as spinach and broccoli, are in demand. Bananas and avocados are big sellers. Clementines and tangerines are great. Navel oranges and fuji apples are also wonderful. We can't forget potatoes and onions and, of course, garlic ,which are in every kitchen. Mangos, papayas (from Mexico and Hawaii ) and the wonderful Hawaiian pineapple are all great.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: New buying outlets being explored are the new accounts outside our market. This is really paying off with Fruit Guys and Amazon, for example.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: Because we are located in California, transportation has not been a problem. Most products are sourced from Nogales or Salinas.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A:Since supplies are good, prices on good merchandise are steady. Demand on garlic and avocados did spike for a short while. They are OK now.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?

A:There have been some consignments, but not enough to flood the market.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: Being bonded commission wholesalers, we do not reject any grower who wishes to use our market. The only exception is very poor quality.

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual?

A: There is some dumping, but not enough to endanger the market on good merchandise.

Q: Many producers of products sold primarily through the foodservice channel are looking for markets. How can the terminal markets help them?

A: Helping foodservice to find products would be a good online communication to source locally as well as to growers and shippers.

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times

A: Credit terms are the same, with the one exception of working with our good customers who need more time.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: My one wish to help the market overall is to have an up-to-the-minute website that lists every item we sell with an up-to-the-minute inventory, label and price that could be ordered online. We are working on this.


LOS ANGELES

Matthew Clark
President
LA Produce Distributors

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?  

A: Initially all of the longer storage items, such as potatoes, onions, garlic, etc., were selling really well ! Now they are completely flat and very hard to sell. More than selling by items, now it’s more about outlet. Retail had 3 very good weeks, and then around March 22, it went dead for 2 weeks. Currently, retail sales are at about 80% of our budget and foodservice at about 20% of budget.  On average, sales are down with regards to a normal April.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: No real issues. Trucks are plenty available. The port of Los Angeles has been a little slower than usual especially the first weeks of the stay-at-home order.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Most prices are depressed. Sales are very tough to get now.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?

A: Yes.  Many.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?  

A: We have had many lots on consignment where the condition does not meet grade. Many cancelled orders from other importers/growers.

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual?

A: Yes.

Q: How is the market able to help producers of foodservice items looking for new markets? 

A: Most customers today are only just-in-time orders. No one wants to carry inventory due to the uncertainty of the demand, so we are able to be that buffer. We are a full house importer/distributor and wholesaler, so we can offer our customers the full range of products in smaller quantities when needed and still make a minimum delivery threshold.

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times.

A: We have tightened up our credit terms and are working with many customers with their late pays.  Foodservice is very late in their payments, and in some cases, not even paying the past due balances.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be…  

A: Open the restaurants again, at least applying the social distancing measures.


CHICAGO

Rob Strube III
President
Strube Celery & Vegetable Co.

Q: Have you been able to maintain your sales capacity?

A: We haven’t been hit as hard as we would have expected with a drop off of foodservice. We don’t want to come across that everything is perfect. We understand it’s not.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market? Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Since we sell everything from A-Z, we are still handling everything, and FOB pricing still dictates up and down market conditions. Strube is trying to stay a little leaner inventory-wise to keep everything moving a little quicker. My salesman all have tons of years of experience, so they know how to work strong markets along with weaker ones. Luckily our business model has not changed much except maybe shorter hours since our primary customers are retail. We are probably staying a little leaner on inventory, just getting it in and out faster. If there is any kind of change, we’re just trying not to be long on anything. I think veg is moving as well as it always has. Fruit is moving OK. As far as the buying aspects, the guys still need grapes and oranges… and lettuce and tomatoes. They’re still buying. Maybe if they bought 50 boxes, now they’re buying 25. But they’re still buying some to make sure it’s in the stores. No one is saying, “I won’t handle a cantaloupe or a sweet onion anymore.” None of that is going on. I haven’t seen anything like that happening where someone isn’t going to buy an item. I don’t want to sound insensitive to those who are in trouble, but we’re not taking a beating or anything like that. Our business model hasn’t really changed a lot with everything that’s happening.

Q: Many producers of products sold primarily through the foodservice channel are looking for markets. How can the terminal markets help them?

A: Our foodservice business is maybe five percent of our total business. I feel for the jobbers out here because they can’t go out and peddle to the restaurants, and we’ve adjusted all our inventories accordingly. I deal with small independents that go to restaurants, so, we’ve taken a little hit on that, but not in the same way because we’re so heavily focused on retail. We’re one of the lucky ones that haven’t really had to change anything.

Q: Are you finding more demand for packaged items?

A: No, not in our markets. We get the packaged salads, organic salads and things like that, but I haven’t seen a big influx. I see our inventory… if were bringing in 30, we’re still bringing in 30, not 100. I have not seen any of that. [An increase in packaged items] might be at store level here in the city, but I’ve been to a few grocery stores here, and I’m not seeing anything dramatically change with packaged items.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: The only thing that I see that will probably happen here in the next few weeks, a month or sooner… hearing and talking to some of the trucking companies here in Chicago… is the backhauls going west just leaving the state are probably going to start reducing, which is going to make the trucks coming back from those areas to haul produce a lot tighter or a lot shorter, so prices will go up on freight. It could be sooner than later. We’re not sure yet. My one guy here in Chicago said it’s getting harder and harder to get backhauls back out west to get the produce. So, we might see a drastic change on that.

Q: Is there anything else that you think would be important to point out?

A: 100 percent of our employees have masks on. Because we are an open market, we usually let customers go into the coolers, but now we’re not allowing customers to go into coolers to pick pallets they want to buy from. That is one adjustment that our buyers in Chicago have had to make. It’s just nutty. Everything is upside down; you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. You make a decision and it could change in 24 hours. It could change in six hours.


DETROIT

Dominic Riggio
President
Riggio Distribution Company

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: Retail items that are bagged or packaged are selling the best. Foodservice items are at about 10% of normal volume.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: Our transportation relationships are solid and we are having no issues.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: The prices are following the normal flow of supply and demand.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: Obviously, we all wish for the health and safety for all the employees, customers, and suppliers in our market.


BOSTON

Tommy Piazza
Director of Potato Procurement
and Marketing

Community-Suffolk Inc.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: Items that are selling off the markets now are still the comfort food items as well as more varied items such as berries, though certainly not at the volume during the height of the frenzy. Now product that is in bags, wrapped or in clamshells are in demand, while the bulk packs are slowing way down as bulk displays disappear more slowly. Commodities that are split up into units for individual sale are sought after. Foodservice packs are the slower movers now and will be until the restaurants and everything else begins to normalize... it may be a while. Meanwhile, those foodservice packs have back-logged at shipping point to the detriment of the shippers and the value.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: Farm stands and smaller produce stores, where there are no large crowds, are doing great business. Pop-up roadside stands seem to be less intimidating than waiting in line 6 feet apart and being checked for masks upon entering 2 or 4 at a time.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: The truck situation has tightened up as the average drivers now are older and need to watch out for their own health, so they locked down like so many others. After the initial surge, the demand for trucks exploded, and the manufactured goods and back-haul items from the East were not available . Perhaps drivers were less inclined to go East toward the hot spots of the virus.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: I'm sure markets are rising on some commodities, but when you see onions being disced up and potatoes in piles in the fields, it seems the COVID situation, like everywhere else, had a detrimental effect.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items, and is the market accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: Yes! Growers need to recoup some of their investment.

Q: How is the market able to help producers of foodservice items looking for new markets? 

A: The foodservice companies and regional wholesalers/distributers have been forced to be creative, innovative, motivated and resourceful. The terminal markets are working hand-in-hand with their customer base. Many foodservice companies jumped into the home-delivery business, creating different ways of getting food to the people while keeping their own people employed and keeping product moving through their facilities. Many are making mixed boxes of different sizes and offering them through on-line ordering, Facebook and word-of-mouth. Some have modified their offerings by the size of the household, or by specific diet preferences. They have reinvented and reworked their offerings to attract the myriad of different types of consumers in their areas or by budget or ethnicity. In my opinion, they are the outfits that had to react the fastest and be the most willing to try something new.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: Blessed art the flexible, for they won’t break. “Need is the mother of invention” has been the distributers’ war cry… and passion, courage, willingness and hard work have been their savior.


HUNTS POINT PRODUCE MARKET

Matthew D’Arrigo
CEO

D’Arrigo Bros. Company of NY

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: Value packs and meal-ready items are selling well. Commodity items are behaving moderately with the exception of ginger, aloe, garlic and turmeric (immune boosters). Consumers are buying these items in larger quantity.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: We have relied upon our strong partnerships and have been working together to build more business.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Markets are behaving pretty normally; they are going up and down all based on the supply-demand paradigm. 

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?

A: Early on, the larger foodservice companies that were caught with excess inventory consigned into the market, but we are back to normal now.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: We have always taken in all grades of product to reduce as much waste as possible. We are still practicing this.

Q: How is the market able to help producers of foodservice items looking for new markets?

A: Utilize the firms here — we have outlets.

Q:How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times?

A: A general tightening of credit has occurred, with a general emphasis and higher level of importance on accounts-receivable departments. Due to 33% of our customers being foodservice suppliers, there is concern — varying degrees of loss of business. We are, however, well-positioned in the market. So our business changes. If the move is retail, we turn to retail. If foodservice is strong, we go that angle. Flexibility is essential... and is what we do.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: That we all make it through this safe and healthy. 


Joel A Fierman
President 
Fierman Produce Exchange, Inc.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A. Mostly bulk items that work predominantly in foodservice are not selling well. Fancy items are not doing well either. In my opinion, people are afraid to touch produce right now, even though we either wash, cook or peel it. Plus the packaging makes for a quicker shopping experience.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: Stores that shop the markets have many options. Plus they also can take advantage of pricing. They can run in-store specials based on availability of product. If I ran a retail operation, I would shop the market every day.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Prices are stable, wholesale prices are driven simply by supply-and-demand. Some areas are choosing not to ship heavy, and many receivers are choosing not to commit to fixed pricing. But it depends on a number of factors, such as cost of production and freight expenses. Nobody wants to ship to lose money. These all play a factor, but obviously an East Coast shipper may have reduced freight and a product with a longer shelf life, so the grower will use his or her relationship to make the most of a bad situation. Personally we’ve cut back on volume, so we actually maximize returns.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: I have had no issue with transportation. I have heard a small number of independent trucks not willing to come into the market. But let’s face it; it’s a bad time if a driver has a underlying medical condition… why force the issue?

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: Depends on what area of the country we are talking about. Also the relationship with that grower. This is where your credit and overall reputation becomes critical. 

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A. Vendors know their customers. Not everyone can use a lower grade. This is not normal times where you can sell blemished product into a restaurant for food preparation; most all product right now is retail. 

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times?

A: There are two types of credit risks right now. There are those who, believe it or not, are just taking advantage of a bad situation. They are offering terrible payment terms. Then there are the more honorable… those who say, “we are hurt… can we suspend the current accounts and open a second account, pay the new account down weekly and pay the old account over time?” As long as I can preserve my PACA rights, I go along with this agreement. It’s amazing that we wholesalers are held to higher standard in this industry, but these people are not. I’m glad to help the more reputable ones. 

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: That no one gets ill and we find a vaccine in less than 12-18 months. We put a man on the moon; we need to now move the moon to make this pandemic go away. 


Stephen Katzman
President/Treasurer
S. Katzman Produce

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: We simply see overall business way off. People who were shopping for produce 3-5 times a week are now only going out once a week or every 10 days. The lines for social distancing are too long. They can’t buy produce for that long of a time. 

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: We have not had any new customers contact us. We have had a great deal of new charitable organizations contact us, and we have been helping them. I’m hoping this new program from the USDA will be a help in purchasing some product for these organizations instead of us just donating to them. 

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Market conditions have stabilized at this point. We just finished up with the Easter and Passover holidays, which helped some. I’m very concerned about business, or lack of thereof for the next few weeks. This could result in over-supply and market decline as we try to move inventory. 

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: We had a little issue with inbound trucks, not wanting to come to NYC, but by paying more in freight we were able to overcome it. 

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: Better shippers, which make up most of our suppliers, are not sending product open. 

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual? Are more companies trying to consign items?

A: I don’t have any venders lowering their standards. If anything, they are setting the bar higher. There is no customer for “off” product. 

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times?

A: Credit is where this market got hurt big time. Our foodservice customers who average 4-6 weeks with us aren’t paying old bills. That is a big hit because it keeps adding to our past due accounts receivableeach week and affecting our cash flow. Shippers still need to be paid on time. 

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: The Government needs to step in and make sure the restaurants and foodservice companies pay their old bills with this “free” money they are giving out. Also purchase some product from us to give out to the various organizations requesting food. We aren’t able to just keep donating at these levels. 


PHILADELPHIA

Tom Kovacevich III
President/COO
T.M. Kovacevich - Philadelphia, Inc.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: What has changed for us is that certain items have really picked up in sales while some have lagged. I believe the consumers have a new list in hand, is being directed by their additional home cooking, heightened food safety concerns and a special focus on shelf life.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: This has not been an issue at all.

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times.

A: We have stepped up our accounts receivable review, we are reaching out and having more conversations with customers under stress, and we are doing our best to respect the difficulty so many are experiencing.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: I would like to see more of the merchants realize the future is in delivery and take on the burden of managing a trucking department. This would offer more service from our market and help those operators grow their business.


Responses from John Vena Inc. were supplied by the following:

  • Tom Allen, Buyer & Account Manager
  • Jose Flores, Buyer & Account Manager
  • Emily Kohlhas, Director of Marketing
  • Kelsey Rose, Customer Support Team Leader
  • Dan Vena, Director of Sales & Buying
  • John Vena, President

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

Kelsey Rose: When closures first started to take effect, demand for microgreens, edible flowers, and baby vegetables basically disappeared. It’s been very difficult for our microgreen suppliers to react and keep production going. But we are starting to see demand bounce back in a very small way as restaurants find their rhythm with take-out.

Tom Allen: Almost all pricey items have been affected at least somewhat. Customers aren’t interested in products that are $2-3 per pound and don’t have a strong retail market. For example, Thai guava and baby pineapples are struggling to move.

Emily Kohlhas: Despite the challenges facing small businesses, we have seen independent retailers continue to come into the market and shop. They have taken a hit as consumers flock to box stores in panic-buying mode, but from what we can see, small shop owners are staying open to be there for their communities. On the foodservice side, restaurants and institutions are still operating at what volumes they can via delivery and take-away. While volumes are off and demand is unpredictable, we haven’t seen a total collapse in any one sector.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

Dan Vena: We are packing a limited line of mixed cases of produce intended for consumers. We’re working with a couple of local retail customers rather than trying to market them directly. It’s a small program for now, but we are committed to helping our retailers expand their offerings and facilitate contact-less shopping.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

Jose Flores: In the ethnic markets, demand for items associated with health tonics and teas has been very high. The increased demand combined with supply issues that existed pre-COVID-19 have driven lemongrass, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and Aloe Vera prices up through the roof. Most other markets have seen a lot of volatility, but it’s been hard to link that to the effects of COVID-19 or predict how they will change from week to week.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?

Tom Allen: The growers that were always willing to consign are still sending product open. But those that never did still aren’t. It just depends on the shipper, regardless of the current circumstances.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

Dan Vena: Our customers really haven’t changed their standards for quality. They can’t really afford to; they still need as much shelf life as possible, especially now. Certainly, our receiving practices and standards are the same; we continue to work with our shippers and to accommodate them as well as we can.

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual?

Jose Flores: Most shippers these days do at least some business with chain stores. They may have seen some business decline on the foodservice side, but the boom in retail has helped them stay relatively stable, so not many shippers have felt the need to consign or dump on the market.

Q: How is the market able to help producers of foodservice items looking for new markets?

Dan Vena: We’ve been focused on supporting our foodservice distributors as their customers make the switch to take-out and delivery where possible. Demand went stone cold for a couple of weeks, but foodservice customers are slowly coming back. Volume is radically reduced, but we have maintained some foodservice business for our growers. There are still restaurants and institutions out there supporting their communities, and they need product as much as any retailer.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

John Vena: I sincerely hope that the merchants and management of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, as well as the entire supply chain, pay attention to the lessons from these difficult days. In our industry, we have learned so much about food safety and risk management. Fighting this crisis is, in some ways, an extension of those best practices. Our supply chains are long and complicated, and the risk of this virus or something like it will always be with us. We must plan for and do the things that keep our workers and customers healthy and safe at all times, not just in times of crisis.


Mark Levin
CEO
M. Levin & Company, Inc.

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: The items that are selling quickly are potatoes, onion, bananas and citrus and apples. Other items like grapes, plums, nectarines, and peaches do not seem to be on the top of anyone’s list. As far as vegetables go, lettuce, romaine hearts, cello celery and broccoli and cauliflower are selling well. Other leaf items, just fair. A lot of customers are now requesting packaged items because of cleanliness. Brussels sprouts and asparagus sales are not quite average.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: Home delivery seems to be an area that has taken a big jump forward. The independent supermarkets are doing well because they do not have to go through the chain of command to get things done. They tend to react to the current situation better than most.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: Transportation is not a problem in Philadelphia. We seem to be a hub for major trucking since we have large port operations, and we can get almost anywhere in the mid-Atlantic corridor within hours.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: Prices were like a roller coaster. When the pandemic started, the stores very quickly overloaded on much merchandise at higher prices. As things started to level off and the consumer realized that produce was readily available, prices began to stabilize but at a little higher price point.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?

A: Foodservice companies, not knowing where they stood in the chain of events, started to make calls to relieve themselves of excess inventory. No Schools, No Restaurants, all this self-containment made them very wary about the near future of their businesses.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: With self-isolation being the Big Topic, the trade that buys the less expensive merchandise is not working. So taking in poor quality produce in the long term means more dumping.

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual?

A: Supply-and-demand is a funny topic in these times. What one person wants, another does not. It is hard to tell. Suppliers only want to dump on wholesalers what they can’t sell, and usually it corresponds at the same time that we also can’t sell it due to over-supply or quality issues.

Q: How is the market able to help producers of foodservice items looking for new markets? 

A: Companies that produce foodservice items may want to reevaluate and see how to convert their items into retail packages whether by over-wrapping or putting in clamshells.

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times?

A: Credit terms are not the problem….adhering to them is!! Most of the customers want to extend their credit during these times because payment becomes slower — Both in and out. The problem is… will you have customers that do not survive these trying times? If you push them for payment, you might lose current business, and they would just buy elsewhere and not pay you. If you don’t push for payment, some businesses may not be able to pay and just get deeper into debt. No right answer; it is a Catch-22 situation with no winners!!

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be?

A: That our market stays virus-free and everyone stays healthy and that business would just go back to normal. Whatever that means.


JESSUP, MD

Tony Vitrano
President
Tony Vitrano Company

Q: How has this pandemic affected the market overall?

A: The closing of restaurants and schools in Maryland had a huge impact on business on the Jessup market.  A large portion of the market customers are wholesalers and jobbers, whose customer base has completely disappeared. Business could be off anywhere from 20% to 90%, depending on the mix of retail to foodservice. The sudden closings left market operators with large amounts of inventory dedicated to foodservice, which could not be easily repositioned to retail. Collections are obviously down accordingly.

Q: What is the overall atmosphere on the market?

A: Social distancing has changed market operations. It is difficult for salesman to talk on the phone with face masks on, and also difficult to record transactions while wearing gloves. The entrance booth at the market is no longer collecting gate fees, as the guards no longer can deal with the public or collect cash. Walk-in business in many cases is being discouraged.


ATLANTA

Andrew Scott
Director of Marketing & Business Development
Nickey Gregory Company

Q: What items are currently selling and not selling on the market?

A: Our business model before the pandemic was heavy into the foodservice sector and foodservice items. We sell to a large number of broadliners across the Southeast, and when this hit, we were able to flip our model to selling the retail and wholesale sectors. We were nimble enough to react and started immediately sourcing retail SKUs, mainly bagged items. Foodservice is slowly coming back and that is a great sign.

Q: What new buying outlets are being explored/reached?

A: We do not have any new buying outlets as we continue to purchase from our current vendor base.

Q: How hard is it to get transportation to and from your market?

A: We backhaul our own purchase orders on our company-owned trucks around the Southeast, so we are doing well, especially with LTL. [Nickey Gregory also has operations in Miami]. We also load all of our own trucks outbound. The farther growing regions, such as California, Arizona, Washington and Idaho… we contract with local carriers who drop trailers on our yard. We try to make it as easy as possible for truck drivers, inbound and outbound.

Q: Are prices going up on all or some items? Any items where prices have fallen?

A: California veggies and value-added items are starting to pick up for us, and they are currently in their transition period out West. I would say that pricing is stable-to-weak on many categories.  If there was any demand, we would be experiencing some strong (pricing) markets.

Q: Are more companies trying to consign items?-

A: Yes, versus dumping products in their fields.

Q: Is the market rejecting or accepting more products that do not meet grade?

A: Accepting

Q: Are suppliers trying to “dump” more items than usual? 

A: Yes, and it's very sad for the farmers. We hate seeing this because with no farmers or product to sell, we are not in business.

Q: How are credit terms being changed in these volatile times?

A: We have had numerous customers, some very large ones, ask to extend their current terms with them. This can really put a pinch in your cash flow, as we like to pay our vendors on time, hence our good ratings.

Q: If you could make one wish to help your market overall, what would it be? –

A: Restaurants need to open and sports need to get started ASAP, especially America's pastime.


The produce wholesaling community serves many crucial purposes in the produce industry. Retailers may restrict their purchasing to a particular size or grade, and the Good Lord does not see fit to have things grow solely to those specifications. So terminal market wholesalers are often the ones to provide growers with the marginal return that makes them profitable.

In the midst of a pandemic — when product grown for one area of the trade suddenly loses its market — these terminal market wholesalers are often the ones with the flexibility to find homes for produce that has suddenly become homeless.

Sometimes, everyone focuses on the more glamorous consumer-facing segments of the trade, but hard and important work often gets done in underappreciated segments. It would be nice if the trade could give a tip of the hat to the important work being done by important players on the wholesale markets of America.

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