Communication Up and Down Supply Chain is Critical

Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of Produce Business.

As a produce wholesaler, we strive to establish and maintain strong relationships. Our DNA is embedded in our connections within the industry. We rely heavily on our growers and shippers to feed us information, which, in turn, allows us to best serve our customers. It is our job to be in constant communication, recognizing produce trends and overcoming challenges based on real-time conversations.

In the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, located in Bronx, NY, wholesalers are considered experts in this field — skilled at thinking in advance and planning ahead in order to provide our customers the freshest, highest-quality produce at an affordable price year-round.

Strong relationships are the key to our success, relationships that started when my grandfather and his partners opened the business in May 1977. A&J Produce Corp., along with many wholesalers in the market (roughly 30), were and are family-owned and operated, relying on generations in the trade. This permits us to be on the front line, connecting daily with our customers, shippers and growers around the world, staying ahead of any changes in market conditions. It is critical for all parties involved to be in constant contact — communication is key.

To determine the best quality, best-tasting produce year-round, we must anticipate challenges facing the industry, such as weather patterns, labor issues, growing conditions and shipping delays (to name a few). As a produce wholesaler, we are in a unique position to gather and assess this information — we are the intermediary between farmers and customers. Our intel directly influences our customers’ planning and preparation, making sure they never go without product on their shelves. With constant communication, we can navigate through these ever-changing obstacles, and, in turn, our customers look to us to guide them.

Certainly, this is crucial when dealing with promotional items for our customers. We are able to help our customers promote certain produce items by knowing harvesting and picking schedules — instructions we receive directly from our growers and shippers. The process will typically begin by our customer coming to us, asking if they are able to promote a certain number of produce items during a certain time period or holiday.

For example, at a store level, our customer will ask us if they can advertise three big produce items (tree ripe peaches, plums and nectarines) during the Fourth of July. We then go back to our shipper and ask them about the specific items for the time period and how many they can ship. We need to disseminate everything accurately from our end, including specific date range, commodity and size to ensure we can meet the ad campaign for promotion. Shippers will evaluate their harvesting schedules and let us know exactly what to forecast based on when their estimated crops will be picked and packed. Peak harvest season will determine the volume and size of produce items that will be available.

As a produce wholesaler, we are in a unique position to gather and assess information — we are the intermediary between farmers and customers.

It is not just as easy as taking an order; we need to make sure every detail is precisely messaged and properly determined. This is why it is imperative to have reliable and consistent growers and shippers, which A&J is extremely fortunate to have. Our growers and shippers do an outstanding job of making sure they have product for us year-round, knowing this directly affects and impacts promotional scheduling and advertising for our customers.

Additionally, as a wholesaler, we do not just handle customers at a store level with promotions. We serve a wide range of customers, from small retailers to distributors, caterers to restaurants, local mom-and-pop stores to large chain stores, and gourmet outlets. Something A&J and other wholesalers take pride in is our working relationships with many local, family-owned farms, as well. In addition to making sure produce is available year-round for our customers, we also have the duty of providing an outlet to help sustain local farmers.

Being situated in Hunts Point is an extreme advantage, as we are in a premium geographic location for receiving some of the best local produce. The market is the largest supporter of local farms, during what is considered to be a local growing season. Depending on the time of year, fresh produce will be available from several local shippers, which many restaurants and customers have depended on for their farm-to-table cuisine.

The relationships we build and sustain are crucial to the success of our business. Constant communication is imperative — allowing all parties to benefit from each other. It is critical to have a dependable, transparent partnership, which enables us to offer exceptional guidance and service to our customers. All things being equal, our industry will continue to survive based on how we work across all sectors of this vast and interesting industry.

Stephanie Tramutola is the first female in the family to be working at A&J Produce Corp., located in the Bronx, NY. The company was started in 1977 by her grandfather, John Tramutola, and his partners. Today, A&J Produce is one of the largest wholesalers of fresh fruit and vegetables in the Hunts Point Terminal Market, servicing New York and the northeast region.