NEW YORK — Despite a difficult winter, produce is experiencing favorable distribution in the Big Apple.

Retail and foodservice business in New York, its boroughs and New Jersey and Connecticut remains strong, wholesalers report.

“I think the economy is starting to rebound for the hits it took six to eight years ago,” said Joel Panagakos, a salesman for Holtsville, N.Y.-based J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc. “It takes time to get back to square one, but we’re seeing good movement, and we appear to be headed in the right direction.”

The difficult winter stalled business January through early spring, said Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc.

“Over the winter, business was a little quiet but now in the spring, everything’s opening up,” he said in early May. “There’s more construction, and everything is back in action. The economy is getting a little better. It’s starting to slowly work its way back up.”

Indications show the produce economy is improving, said Joe Granata, director of produce sales for RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J.

“When the economy isn’t strong, you see how seafood and floral sales always lag because people don’t have extra money to spend on flowers or seafood,” he said. “But when the economy is good, those sales increase and people buy the produce fringe items too. When the economy isn’t good, they won’t spend money on pomegranates or something exotic, but when it’s good they are willing to buy different varieties of apples and tropicals. We’re seeing that.”

Improved attitudes
Pete Pelosi, a buyer and logistics manager for A&J Produce Corp., said all signs point to growth.

“The produce economy has been average but coming off the previous year, it didn’t have too much of an increase but it also didn’t dip,” he said. “Those days are over. Going forward, we should start gaining year after year in the short term. Peoples’ attitudes are better, and there is higher employment. Things are getting better.”

New York’s economy hasn’t changed much, and Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., said he’s never seen so many empty storefronts in the city.

“The economy is kind of flat,” he said. “You hear people say things are good but then the next minute, they have to revise the jobless numbers downward. I would like to think that we in the produce industry are somewhat insulated from the general economy as our economy runs on its own ticker.”

Foodservice demand remains strong, said Benjamin Friedman, owner of Riviera Produce Corp., Englewood, N.J.

Last year was a little better than the previous year but not without a lot of work, he said.

“It’s hard to gauge, though, as at any given moment there could be a change because a lot of people are still living paycheck to paycheck,” Friedman said. “There has to be that concern for anyone running a business and giving credit to customers.”

Secaucus N.J.-based Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., is experiencing favorable movement, said Bruce Klein, director of marketing.

“The economy is good,” he said in early May. “I don’t see any increase in population in the area. Product is moving but in most cases prices are up. Whenever prices go up, it always makes it difficult. Movement of cases is slightly up and dollars are up a little more than that.”

Sailing smoothly
The region’s overall economy and produce sector haven’t seen major changes, said Mike Cochran, sales manager and vice president of Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc.

“The economy has been pretty steady,” he said. “There haven’t been any big movements. You don’t hear too much about the New York economy unlike a few years ago, so it can’t be too bad.”

Produce moves well in the region, said Sheldon Nathel, vice president of Nathel & Nathel Inc.

“The produce economy has been very good,” he said. “The produce business is kind of like a recession-proof business. Even when it’s quiet, we come to the end of the week and push the amount of packages we’re supposed to.”

Sales and movement in the city remain status quo, said Nick Pacia, a co-owner and vice president of A.J. Trucco Inc.

“Overall, I believe the New York produce economy is strong,” he said. “There are always new deals being initiated to compensate the shortfall of others deals. We are on target with our sales and we are trying to strengthen the business with our current products, in addition to initiating new deals with new commodities in order to keep growing.”

By Doug Ohlemeier (The Packer)

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