Originally printed in the July 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Answering the shifting needs of customers showcases merchants’ flexibility.
For more than 50 years, the wholesale merchants on the Hunts Point Terminal Market have played a vital role for suppliers of produce from around the world and for buyers in the nation’s largest city and beyond. The largest wholesale produce market in the world, Hunts Point is set on 113 acres with more than one million square feet of space. The 36 merchants on the market serve as a central repository for information and expertise on the produce scene.
Hunts Point is the largest resource for fresh produce in the Tri-State Area, according to Gabriela D’Arrigo, vice president of marketing and communications for D’Arrigo New York. “The reach that we have as a market is appealing to suppliers both domestically and some internationally,” she says.
“Not everybody can be everything to everybody, but Hunts Point encompasses a great deal of ability to supply many different wants and needs. We are vital because we have everything 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. We have a variety and quality no other market could possibly match.”— Joel Fierman, Fierman Produce Exchange
Nick Pacia, chief executive and president of AJ Trucco, sees terminal markets, in general, as a key component of the ecosystem for specific sectors within the produce distribution system. “They are vital for many small independents, and their role is evolving every year more and more,” he says.
The market serves an integral purpose for the diverse New York City-area retailers. “We are able to help fill the pipeline for major retailers, grocery stores and restaurant groups all the way down to smaller stores, bodegas and delis,” says Thomas Tramutola, Jr., manager at A&J Produce Corp. “We work around the clock to ensure we deliver the highest quality product to our customers.”
Hunts Point is a steady connection between the farm and every type of buyer, explains Jim Margiotta, owner/president of J. Margiotta Co. “Whether they’re the biggest or smallest retailer, a restaurant, wholesaler or someone buying for use at home, we serve them all. We break down giant quantities of produce and distribute it in the way that’s most useful right across the board. It’s impressive in terms of what we do as far as the market—how we provide consistently in all circumstances.”
Hunts Point has always been an integral part of sourcing for 3 Guys from Brooklyn, an independent open air, old school corner market.
Approximately 95% of our produce comes from Hunts Point,” says Philip Penta, managing partner.
The Hunts Point Market is especially key for urban areas because a large segment of stores need a market to keep them supplied, explains Joel Fierman, president of Fierman Produce Exchange. “Not everybody can be everything to everybody, but Hunts Point encompasses a great deal of ability to supply many different wants and needs. We are vital because we have everything 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. We have a variety and quality no other market could possibly match.”
In Fair Weather Or Foul
As experts on the ups, downs and changes in the marketplace, the merchants of Hunts Point shine in any weather or situation. “The market is fundamental, whether there is a crisis or just a regular day,” says Michael Armata, fourth generation and buyer at E. Armata. “There is so much volume coming in and out of this market daily with a large variety of items to choose from. Even for a large retailer that buys a lot direct, we offer the unique option for them to be able to fill any ‘shorts’ they have in a timely fashion.”
Hunts Point merchants excel in meeting specific customer needs, regardless of circumstances. “Our location and fast-paced business style allows us to service so many businesses,” says Stefanie Katzman, executive vice president at S. Katzman Produce. “In times like these, when everyone is struggling, it is one piece of the puzzle we can help with. Getting food from the farmers to the fork is what we do best.”
During a crisis, buyers look to Hunts Point for more than just produce, relates Charlie DiMaggio, president of FresCo LLC. “We have become the hub of important information often shared with the buyers before the general public,” he says. “We share what’s happening on the farm level as well as future availability of product. For a worldwide crisis, you can imagine it’s a tremendous amount of data that has to be collected and interrupted, so we can guide ourselves and our customers.”
“The vendors on Hunts Point have the warehouse infrastructure and distribution capabilities to be a steady supply of produce to a vast array of consumers as well as fill in gaps of other companies’ supply chain.”— Evan Kazan, Target Interstate Systems
Hunts Point was instrumental as a reliable source for four-store retailer Ferreira Foodtown in Jackson Heights, NY, reports Jason Ferreira, chief executive. “Many warehouses were hurt by the logistical consequences of the COVID outbreak, and the vendors in Hunts Point were able to accommodate our needs as grocers,” he says.
The physical resources available at Hunts Point as well as logistical support led to a critical role. “The vendors on Hunts Point have the warehouse infrastructure and distribution capabilities to be a steady supply of produce to a vast array of consumers as well as fill in gaps of other companies’ supply chain,” says Evan Kazan, vice president of Target Interstate Systems, a transportation provider located on the Hunts Point Market. “They also donate an enormous amount of food to charities and food banks, which is always important, but even more so now.”
The pandemic emphasized the capabilities of the market, asserts D’Arrigo. “It showcased our flexibility due to the different ways we are able to distribute produce to those in need,” she says.
Times like these prove how essential terminal markets are, agrees Tramutola. “We’re an essential spoke of the food industry,” he says. “We had everybody working continuously through the pandemic and were dedicated to getting every customer what they needed and then some.”
Serving Buyer Needs
The Hunts Point Market makes for an ideal resource for the many diverse New York Metro Area buyers, as it encompasses independent stores, street vendors, restaurant purveyors, jobbers and even larger retail operations stretching throughout the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and beyond. “The customers are in an advantageous position because they don’t have to put their eggs in one basket,” says Tramutola. “The market gives the customers a chance to shop around and get different pricing, packaging options and grading. The buyers have a great opportunity to get a deal on each item or to get the exact specifications or quality attributes on an item they need.”
Again and again, as reported by the customers of the market and the vendors who supply services to the market, the value of such customer interactions was emphasized by the recent crisis. “As people rushed to the supermarkets to stock up on food, there was a gap in the supply chain for supermarkets, which caused supermarkets to then use the wholesale market to replenish their inventory,” says Kazan.
Hunts Point has always been vital to Morton Williams, which has 16 stores throughout Manhattan. “But they are even more so now,” says Marc Goldman, produce director “During the crisis, other vendors were short on product. Out of everyone, Hunts Point had the most consistent flow of product.”
Goldman had already established a system using Hunts Point’s capabilities and reports proven success even during the crisis. “About eight months ago, I started bringing in product direct and using a house in Hunts Point to warehouse the product,” he says. “We have a buyer at Hunts Point every day. We remained fully stocked from day one—our system worked.”
“The market gives the customers a chance to shop around and get different pricing, packaging options and grading. The buyers have a great opportunity to get a deal on each item or to get the exact specifications or quality attributes on an item they need.”— Thomas Tramutola Jr., A&J Produce
Hunts Point’s diversity of product also presents a significant advantage to buyers. The buyer shopping Hunts Point can choose to be as diversified as he or she wants, explains Margiotta. “A great example recently was related to the closures of the foodservice outlets. We saw a lot of customers change their business model focus. They had been our customers for foodservice procurement, and when they changed to a retail focus, they realized they could still source from us but just buy different items. Though they changed their sales model, they could keep their same procurement.”
The collective knowledge exhibited by the Hunts Point companies, many of whom are fourth and fifth generation, represents an unprecedented information bank. “There’s a reason why we’re third and fourth generation,” says Rubin. “We’ve proven it time and time again, and we’ve really proven it during this crisis. We know best because we’re in the trenches every day. It’s basically like if you wanted financial advice, you’d want to talk to Warren Buffet. For produce advice, you come here.”
The knowledge that comes out of Hunts Point with the multi-generational companies is the same as a farmer passing on to his child how the farm works, describes Margiotta. “It’s families teaching the next generation all about the produce—how it grows, how it’s shipped, how it’s handled and how it’s sold and then passing that onto the customer,” he says.
Market merchants hone their expertise by being in the trenches every day. “We’re on the front lines,” says Nathel. “I’m in the warehouse, talking with the customers and talking with our sales people. I see the product. I see the trends. I’m not sitting in an office 20 miles away from the warehouse without touch on the produce. We’re on top of things.”
Knowledge of the business is also built mutually through merchant interactions with customers, according to Scott Zimmerman, buying partner at 3 Guys from Brooklyn. “The Hunts Point companies develop additional expertise from having relationships with retailers in the marketplace,” he says. “They know what I use, what I carry and what I need.” [Editor’s Note: See related article on 3 Guys from Brooklyn.]
The Hunts Point vendors and brokers have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace, agrees Ferreira. “They know which items are reasonably priced and in the right quality and freshness conditions,” he says. “They were able to deliver, not only in sending us our purchases, but also in guiding us in our ordering decisions.”
Such knowledge is a key benefit of the market, notes Tramutola. “We source the product, we know where it comes from, we know what’s in season, what the transportation rates are, what the right pricing is,” he says. “We make sure the customer is taken care of in terms of quality, pricing and availability. Working in this industry, you have to understand a lot of information and aspects from transportation, to growing, to market. It’s a complex formula. It’s not a job—it’s a lifestyle.”
Fierman makes no bones about the advantage of the market’s flexibility. “If stores direct-buy a little less and shop Hunts Point a little more, they’d probably be more profitable,” he says.
Market business has always been one of communication, according to Katzman. “Every day we spend hours talking to farmers around the world to get a sense of growing conditions, supply chain volume and a glimpse into the future,” she says. “Then, of course, we get a good picture of the other side of things from talking to our customers. These conversations never stop because our business never stops.”
Need For Flexibility
Another asset showcasing how Hunts Point merchants best serve customers revolves around flexibility, both for suppliers and buyers. “We run a tight ship and can really act on a dime,” says Rubin. “We’re all extremely diversified. None of my customers make up a single huge percentage of my sales, so we can be nimble when things happen in the market.”
Due to their unique position in the middle, merchants display flexibility in helping buyers and suppliers find solutions to issues. “We can come up with an idea and reach out to both sides,” says Nathel. “It’s an exchange between us, the shippers and the customers. We communicate with the shippers to ask what they can do; then we go to the customer to ask them.”
Hunts Point provides an adaptable distribution center for retailers. “In a major metro area like New York, the terminal market is an important hub,” says Ronnie Cohen, principal for Vision Import Group in Hackensack, NJ. “A lot of smaller, independents or groups of companies use Hunts Point as their cold storage—it’s essentially their fresh produce warehouse.”
Retailers who take advantage of this flexibility find themselves with an advantage. “Although many retailers have the ability to buy direct, it does not mean it’s always the best option,” says Katzman. “Daily arrivals of fresh supply, a variety of products and brands, the ability to handle under-supply and over-supply situations and a central hub for everything are just a few of the services we provide.”
“During the crisis, other vendors were short on product. Out of everyone, Hunts Point had the most consistent flow of product.”— Marc Goldman, Morton Williams
During times of crisis, having this flexibility is even more important. “The wholesale market was able to remain open and keep the food supply chain moving during the recent crisis,” says Katzman. “If one farmer had to close up, then we called another to keep our supply coming. If one retailer or restaurant had to close up, then we found another way to get the fruits and vegetables onto people’s plates.”
Goldman reports how Morton Williams benefited from using the market. “Our supply chain was flexible, and we had the contacts and knowledge to be able to react,” he says. “I saw chain stores that were empty and still haven’t caught up. I was walking into other stores with empty shelves when we were fully stocked.”
Zimmerman says 3 Guys from Brooklyn remained fully stocked during most of the crisis time because of its sourcing from Hunts Point. “They continued to operate and enabled us to consistently supply our customers,” he says. “The flexibility we had was shown by the fact that if some items were short, we could easily substitute something else.”
On the other hand, explains Nathel, when a store buys direct, they’re locked into specific produce. “If they don’t sell it, it’s still in their DC, and the stores eventually have to move it,” he says. “In the case of Hunts Point, we are their warehouse. Stores can purchase as-needed every day or week. The retailers that were buying from the market had all they needed when COVID-19 hit, and they had good product. Many retailers supplied by their DCs saw days when there was limited produce.”