Originally printed in the May 2020 issue of Produce Business.
In fair or foul times, buyers and suppliers alike count on Montreal wholesalers for a crucial middle-link in the supply chain.
Montreal’s produce terminal market and surrounding wholesalers are the lifeblood of the produce distribution stream to end users and serve a wide variety of customers. “In general, the wholesalers in our area serve big banners, independents and small stores,” says Joe Lavorato, president at Gaetan Bono. “In normal foodservice times, we see small chefs coming in themselves as well as small or medium distributors and large distributors.”
The dedication and fervor of Montreal’s wholesalers in serving their community yields significant value in times of normalcy as well as crises. “We are on the frontlines for our customers,” says Maria Cavazos, manager at MC Produce. “Through our passion, communication and innovation, we ensure supply all year-round. With decades-long experience in the market, we know the business. Top that off with a solid relationship with our growers, and we are able to meet our customers’ needs.”
Montreal’s wholesalers also look for innovation. “As the second and third generations come on board, they test the waters with new ideas and packaging,” says Corri Morison, marketing and sales for Benny D’Angelo Produce. “Here at Benny’s, we love that. We do a lot of foodservice, so to be able to offer a new product to our customers is a bonus and fun. We encourage our growers to introduce us to anything they think our customers might enjoy or something that has been successful for them when dealing with their own customers in Montreal. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
IMPORTANCE OF SERVICE
The wholesalers count service as a crucial attribute. “We sell great quality and provide great service,” says Gabriel Isabelle, vice president of C. Isabelle. “We can pack and deliver a rush load to Ontario in only 12 hours. And, we can deliver to New York or Boston in the same day. We serve Montreal and all the U.S. East-Coast, including New York, Philadelphia and Boston.”
Increasingly, service includes expanded distribution. Gaetan Bono services the entire Quebec province and some parts of Ontario. “More and more, we are doing deliveries,” says Lavorato. “We’ve done them for a long time but increasingly customers are looking for this service. Buyers come on the market, pick out their product, but then we build their orders and ship them out.”
MC delivers to Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver year around. “We have new services in addition to our monitoring and coordinating trucks and drivers,” says Cavazos. “We now can include clearings at Canada-U.S. customs with CBP New York and Philadelphia until trucks and containers reach their final destination.”
Morison reports Benny D’Angelo increasingly serves certain regions that have grown because of population growth. “Land once used for agriculture is now being used for housing,” she says. “Those regions are now focusing on finding good, solid suppliers to supplement their demands. And that’s where we come in.”
DEVELOPING A WIN-WIN
Another fundamental benefit of the wholesale market is quality. “Freshness is key,” says Lavorato. “Our customers shop here because they can look at the product, choose exactly what they’re getting, and ensure freshness and quality. And for customers who don’t want to come down, they’ve built relationships with our sales people and trust them to fulfill orders.”
Isabelle emphasizes the need to have the best product, at competitive prices. “It’s hard to differentiate potatoes, so the key comes down to quality and service,” he says.
Variety also counts high among market benefits. “We are able to offer a wide selection of produce, depending on each of our customers’ needs,” says Morison. “This includes packaging, mixed pallets of produce and our own transportation service.”
Montreal wholesalers consider collaboration the best formula for success. “We work in a partnership with our growers,” says Isabelle. “Together we have enough volume to supply the major chain stores all year long.”
MC Produce works hand-in-hand with customers to develop ads and promotions to support accounts. “We are trying to increase promotions and ads for our items on season with retailers,” says Cavazos. “And, we are continuing to innovate by developing new and attractive packaging that is cost-effective and, of course, environmentally friendly.”
At Benny D’Angelo, staff works with customers and sources to cultivate new items. “It’s a real pleasure when customers get excited because they have discovered something new on our list,” says Morison. “It may be something we had not offered before, and now they have the opportunity to add it to their regular orders with us and in turn, continue to offer their customers more options.”
Montreal’s geographic location in the St. Lawrence Valley provides access to a significant number of local, productive farms. C. Isabelle has over 25 family farms that grow potatoes for it all around the Quebec province. “This gives us the necessary volume to serve big chain stores,” says Isabelle. “We also grow 1,000 acres ourselves.”
Benny D’Angelo consolidates product from growers all around Quebec and exports to the U.S., including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. “We work with farmers anywhere from two miles to 50 miles away,” says Morison. “We attend events and meet new growers through our established ones and build a solid base of produce support throughout our region.”
Morison also relates climate changes have allowed for expansion in local product offering. “We now have local product options that were not available before,” she says. “This allows us to offer our customers new items to expand their business and, in turn, expands ours.”
Gaetan Bono reports partnering with the Quebec Produce Growers Association (QPGA) in a new venture. “We are moving from the market and building a new facility,” says Lavorato. “It’s been a bit delayed, but we expect to be open sometime in mid-May or June.”
The new facility is a 50-50 partnership with QPGA, where local growers will be able to sell their product. “We are big exporters of local Canadian product to the U.S., so the partnership is a win-win for everyone,” says Lavorato. “The local growers will have this refrigerated facility along with access to our traceability and food safety tools. And we’ll have many of our partners under the same roof.”