Get Ready — Winds Of Change Are Blowing

Originally printed in the August 2022 issue of Produce Business.

As a young woman coming into this industry, I have realized there are not many people my age in the wholesale produce business — especially buyers. Youth is scarce in the terminal market, and I am curious as to what will happen as our buyers begin to “age out.”

Traditionally, terminal market operations have relied heavily on the in-person exchange of the buyer and the seller. Relationships that are pivotal to a successful business take years to establish and maintain. At A&J Produce Corporation, many of these connections started when my grandfather opened the business in May 1977.

Over 45 years later, this still holds true. The transactional business is a give-and-take between the buyer and the seller. While technology may have become a crucial tool in today’s buying environment across all industries, not just produce, it still does not take away from the value of the daily interaction between two people.

In the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, this process typically starts in the early evening hours, continuing to midnight when buyers walk around to each company or “house.” Buyers scope out the product they need, which includes specific produce, certain sizing and, most importantly, the highest quality. This is usually done during night hours to ensure the best product for the morning pickup. As many of these buyers are the same individuals interacted with every single day, the exchange is fair for both the buyer and seller.

The endless process of buying and selling is beginning to transform, as these players have been in the produce industry for decades and the walk traffic is slowly giving way to electronic means. So, I pose the question: What will this mean for the future of the terminal market operations as the traditional walk buyer ages out?

The younger generation will transform the way business is currently conducted on the terminal market.

With the assistance of salesmen at the Hunts Point Terminal Market (Jimmy Tramutola, Alan Trabucco, and John Robert Tramutola III), comments and insights to this question were collected from senior buyers. Similar sentiments were shared.

Two buyers, Cevat Yigit (Harvest Produce) and Craig Verdi (SV Produce), who have been in the industry for over 20 years, answered this question exactly the same and said when they age out, “things will be very different.” Additionally, Joe Bruno (Bergen Farms) predicts that in-person traffic will dwindle and “there will be few walk buyers.” Clearly, buyers anticipate an extreme change in the industry as they begin to age out.

We asked another question: In the years you have been a customer of the Hunts Point Produce Market, what have you experienced as a major change in the industry? Buyers seemed to reiterate extremely similar opinions for this question as well. The common theme was there are now “fewer stores in the Hunts Point Market” (Cevat Yigit), and “fewer people are involved” (Craig Verdi) — another indication buyers are aware the terminal market is transforming in this digital era.

One of the most prominent observations was that younger generations are not willing to work night hours mentioned above. We asked Seydi Oscar, a buyer from S&B Produce who has been in the industry for almost 30 years, if any of his family members were interested in becoming a part of the industry, and if not, why? His response, “No, they do not want to work night hours.” Another buyer, Stevy Kim from HA Trucking who has been in the business since 1990, echoed this by saying, “No, hours are tough, and this business is not easy to learn.”

To gain perspective on this same question from a seller’s perspective, I asked Jimmy Tramutola, head fruit salesman at A&J, about the importance of working nights in the business. As someone who has worked nights for 42 years, he stressed the importance of the phrase “the early bird gets the worm.” He emphasized that buying in the night hours allows customers to receive product early morning. In addition, scarce, or also referred to as “short,” items will not be available for day customers, as they will be quickly purchased at night.

From both the buyer’s and seller’s perspective, the change of work hours will aid in the disruption of the future of terminal market operations.

Undoubtedly, buyers have communicated similar thoughts on changes they have seen within the business. What about their hopes for the future? In terms of what buyers would like to see happen, the collective answer is more availability and more product.

“I would like there to be more consistency in the availability of produce,” (Craig Verdi). Additionally, “Products were always easy to buy, and you could buy good stuff. I feel like that has become more difficult,” (Joe Bruno). These suggestions from buyers further signify how they envision the future.

The shared insights indicate the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market will see drastic changes as the customary walk buyer ages out. The way in which business is currently conducted is due to transform with the younger generation. As I am part of this younger generation, I can’t help but deep dive into questions like this and think about my future, but also the future for the terminal market as a whole.

Stephanie Tramutola is the first female in the family to be working at A&J Produce Corporation, 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.