During the New York Produce Show week, on Dec. 7, participants could select one of five industry tours when registering for the show and conference — and tour hosts did not disappoint!
A tour of Brooklyn retailers included Wegmans’ first NYC location; Trader Joe’s; and a landmark open-air market, 3 Guys From Brooklyn.
Wegmans has made the biggest splash recently in the New York food retailing scene. The company hovered just within the New York suburbs in Woodbridge, NJ, for years, then added its Brooklyn location in May of 2019. The store has become a New York stalwart, serving not only local Brooklyn residents but, with a delivery operation that generates half of store sales, in its home borough and lower Manhattan.
New York Produce Show attendees on the Manhattan Retail Tour visited Whole Foods, Morton Williams, Brooklyn Fare and the October 2023-opened Wegmans, Astor Place, to understand how the 1.6 million residents living here can buy their produce.
Though footprints tended to be small compared to suburban retailers, fresh produce was abundant in variety, with displays built with greater height to offer more volume.
Especially eye-catching was the produce department in the 87,500-square-foot Wegmans, with its original architecture of the historic Wannamaker building along with ample wood-built freestanding displays of pomegranates, color-coordinated yellow squash and cauliflower displays, a tomato table with nearly two dozen SKUs, and a wall of grab-and-go cut fruit.
The New York Produce Show New Jersey retail tour included four supermarkets that serve this mosaic of communities.
Food Bazaar: Food Bazaar operates throughout the New York metropolitan area, and a company source noted the operation includes five supermarkets in New Jersey that focus on serving both mainstream shoppers and ethnic consumers who look for particular products.
A visit to a Food Bazaar produce section provides a view on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, from yucca to plantains to navel oranges and Honeycrisp apples.
At the North Bergen Food Bazaar, the emphasis on the ethnic side was toward Latinos. Although Food Bazaar stores typically include many Latin specialties, the assortment does shift depending on the local community. So, in some stores, the range of Asian items rivals that of Latin-oriented produce as the population demands.
Whole Foods: Jersey City has been a recognized example of how gentrification can radically change a community. Once a relatively modest and low-rise community, over the past two generations, Jersey City has seen gentrification, major business investment and an explosion of high-rise luxury residential housing particularly adjacent to the New York Harbor waterfront area.
Today, Jersey City trails only Newark among Garden State cities in population numbers.
The Whole Foods in Jersey City is at the base of an existing high-rise building, so the space has to accommodate the overall configuration of the structure and, of course, customer demand. As such, the produce department is to the right of an entrance that fronts onto convenience foods. The department is L-shaped, with a small initial presentation that includes a floral department but that turns into the main fruit and vegetable presentation.
As is usually the case with Whole Foods, produce displays are neat and well-tended.
Descriptive signage providing information about various items pops up around the department, including identification of local suppliers, the Garden State, of course, complemented by growing regions in nearby eastern Pennsylvania and New York’s Hudson Valley.
Especially conspicuous in the produce department is a fresh-cut niche dubbed the Veggie Butcher, which includes a display case and prep kitchen to give shoppers a sense of how the store handles its prepared produce. In general, convenience items get a lot of play at the Jersey City Whole Foods, including a proportionately large display of bagged and clamshell salads.
As it leads out of the produce department, a banana display in front of colorful wall art can’t be missed. A graphic presentation of lush green tropical plants is superimposed with a pink-hued script spelling out the slogan “Eat Colorful Live Happy.”
Seabra: The Ironbound section of Newark is famous for its tightly knit Portuguese community, although its population has been changing with Brazilian immigrants and, increasingly, new arrivals from South America and the Caribbean. Filipe Silva, Seabra Group general manager, says the changes in ethnic mix have had a more pronounced effect on the grocery presentation at the store, with aisles developed to various national cuisines.
Seabra’s Group, headquartered in Newark, operates 19 stores in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida. The store visited, in Newark’s Ferry Plaza, opened in 2019, and has its produce section up front in the store near the entrance. Colorful signage featuring lots of produce beauty shots mounted on the wall set the department tone as shoppers enter the store. Big displays define the produce section and include hefty presentations of bulk items.
Among the range of products, from Malaga to iceberg lettuce, Seabra’s produce department offers proportionately large displays of apples and pears. Citrus is a big seller, Silva says, but grapefruit isn’t favored. Across the produce department, shoppers at Seabra prefer the sweeter fruits, he said.
The potato and onion display is another big part of the produce department, with a large garlic component part of the mix. The cold cases are deep in greens and vegetables with a considerable presentation of peppers. Silva said fresh cuts are widely popular across the company’s customer base for their convenience. The store stocks its berries beside fresh-cuts.
A vertical banana display provides the basis for a tropical products display in and around it, one that includes pineapples, plantains and other warm-climate specialties.
Silva says the produce cut out is about 20% and the square footage “is between 15% and 20%” of the floor space.
ShopRite: In central Newark, ShopRite operates to fill what once was a food desert in a lower-income community, but Neil Greenstein pointed out he and store management have learned not to make too many assumptions when it comes to shoppers.
Greenstein is president of an operation that includes both the Newark ShopRite and another under the banner in Bloomfield, NJ. The Newark store is 70,000 square feet. The company, as a third-generation family concern, wanted to provide the community with a full-on supermarket operation that could fulfill a lot of shopping needs, he explained.. Produce makes up about 20% of the total store space.
“We’re trying to make a difference,” he said.
A consequence of the location is that the store does a large amount of business early in the month, given SNAP allocations. That being said, some people advised Greenstein during the Newark location’s development that a floral section wouldn’t do well. As it turned out after the store’s 2015 opening, the floral department was an immediate success in a community that enjoys and embraces celebrations.
The store offers a significant assortment of Latino specialties, and it mixes things up. A cold fixture in the produce area offers a range of dairy items favored by Latino customers.
At the same time, convenience items do well, with bagged and clamshell salads included in the mix along with fresh cuts. Indeed, ShopRite mixes bulk and bagged produce throughout the Newark store sales floor. Nuts enjoy strong demand, with the store working extensively with Wonderful on products, such as pistachios. However, the presentation is varied and high profile with a solid tub nut offering.
In terms of layout, the produce department at the Newark store is open, airy and bright, and it incorporates a mix of display vehicles including bins, tables and racks on the floor. The presentation of bagged and clamshell salads and greens is broad in the vertical cold case, with the Glory brand having a significant presentation, but one that also spills over to refrigerated fixtures on the floor, with Tanimura & Antle and Fresh Express labels being among those so merchandised.
HUNTS POINT PRODUCE MARKET
The most popular tour was the Hunts Point Produce Market, Bronx, NY, which handles 2.5 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables annually. Hunts Point is the largest market in the U.S., with 30 firms calling it home.
Phillip Grant, chief officer of Hunts Point Market, and Stefanie Katzman, executive vice president of S. Katzman Produce, led the two tour groups.
The Hunts Point Market services every type of customer who will use a fresh fruit or vegetable. “From your small mom and pop shops to bakeries, who might come in here to buy five or 10 boxes of produce, all the way to the big chain stores like Whole Foods, ShopRite, Stop & Shop. We’ll deliver to their distribution centers. That category in the middle, those independent retailers, are what are so big in our area and really what our market was built for and takes care of. We act as their warehouse,” says Katzman.
Tour participants were given a tour of the ripening room at Top Banana. Top Banana is the only firm at Hunts Point that ripens bananas directly inside the market.
Gabriela D’Arrigo, vice president of marketing and communications, D’Arrigo New York, led the group on a tour of D’Arrigo Brothers at Hunts Point.
D’Arrigo says one of the challenges at Hunts Point is the market itself, which is 56 years old. “The idea of the market was to load on one side and unload on another, but you can’t do that anymore because the trucks don’t fit,” she says.
When the market was built in 1967, you could only go two high with boxes. The market can’t handle the oversupply, says Matthew D’Arrigo, chief executive, D’Arrigo New York.
The Hunts Point Produce Market continues to pursue funds to renovate or even completely rebuild the facility. Grant says the market has city, federal and state funds, so it’s a start, but more is needed. “We have about $370 million committed right now. The goal is to outpace rising costs,” Grant says.
The lunch at the end of the tour provided time for a Q&A with Grant, D’Arrigo and Katzman.
Attendees of the New York Produce Show enjoyed a tour of the fully enclosed and refrigerated Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM), Dec. 7. Tour participants included wholesalers, grower/shippers and media representatives.
Christine Hofmann, PWPM marketing coordinator, welcomed the group to the state-of-the-art Philadelphia facility. The group discussed the market’s history dating to Colonial days, as well as the need for the move from the outdated Galloway facility in 2011.
“This new building provides many unique advantages no other produce market facility in the U.S. has,” says Hofmann. “Our cold chain integrity, cleanliness, convenience and efficiency all provide significant advantages for our customers, our merchants and our shippers, and allows them to operate more efficiently and handle product for better shelf life.”
Tour participants walked the concourse of the fully refrigerated 700,000 square-foot facility and visited the various show rooms of its 18 merchants. Tom Kovacevich of TMK Produce explained the efficient layouts of the coolers each merchant has. Participants also received an explanation on the fruit ripening process by the expert ripener Joe Menei at John Vena Inc., and viewed both avocados and bananas in the JVI ripening room.
The group also visited the innovative food donation and redistribution organization Sharing Excess workspace located inside the market. In 2021, PWPM partnered with Sharing Excess to begin gleaning usable produce as a daily operation. Since that time, the collaboration has saved over 15 million pounds of produce from reaching landfills.
Sharing Excess aims to revolutionize food sharing by solving the logistical barriers of rescue and redistribution. The organization covers sorting, coordination, and transportation making it easy for companies to donate useable but unsaleable produce.
After the wholesale market, the participants visited McCaffrey’s Food Market in West Windsor, NJ. The family-owned company opened its first store in Northeast Philadelphia in 1980 and has since opened eight more stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The stores honor a commitment to exceptional customer service and the highest quality fresh food.
Tour participants were welcomed by Tony Mirack, produce director of operations, and treated to lunch and store tour of this exceptional retailer.
The 14th annual New York Produce Show and Conference (NYPS) opened Dec. 5. The event had a record audience of more than 5,000 executives attending the one-day trade show and three co-located events. There were 350-plus exhibiting companies and a record of 41 sponsors. The New York Produce Show is organized by Produce Business and the Eastern Produce Council.
SAVE THE DATE!
Mark your calendar for next year’s New York Produce Show and Conference: Dec. 10-12, 2024.
And exhibitors, book your booth now, as there’s a limited time to maintain the current booth rate. Visit www.nyproduceshow.com/exhibit2024 or talk to your sales representative before Jan. 12 to lock in the 2023 rate!