Philadelphia’s geographic location and infrastructure present significant advantages for easily moving produce to and through the region. “We service the whole East Coast on a daily basis,” says Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation. “We handle every different size customer, from foodservice operators to wholesalers to large retailers to independents and roadside stands.”
Philly wholesalers are working their geographical advantage to expand to an even greater region. John DiFeliciantonio, owner of North American Produce Company (NAPCO), explains his company is constantly pushing farther away from Philadelphia to find and serve customers. “On a weekly basis we are traveling 300 miles to deliver product,” he says.
Customers are taking advantage of the transportation options provided by some of the market’s larger companies, says managing partner at Coosemans. “The more customers you deliver to, the bigger share of the customer base you get,” he says. “That by far is our biggest need and biggest growth area. We’re looking to have trucking to Virginia, Maryland and Western PA.”
Stephen Secamiglio, owner/sales at Colonial Produce, reports seeing more customers from Maryland and Virginia. “These southern customers don’t really have access to a facility such as ours in their regions,” he says. “It’s worth the drive for them because of the PWPM’s cold chain integrity.”
Filindo Colace, vice president operations for Ryeco, says his company’s footprint also continues to expand. “We delivered a load into Florida last week, and a month before we delivered into Maine,” he says. “We’re going where our customers need us to go.”
Frank McDonald, sales at Nardella, says the company operates its own trucks and also pays outside drivers. “This has allowed expansion of the area we sell to,” says McDonald. “We’d lose one of our biggest customers if we didn’t deliver.”
Tom Kovacevich, general manager at T.M. Kovacevich (TMK), notes delivery growth has been fueled by several factors. “One of these is the trend to local,” he says. “Many retailers have realized we can fill an important role in keeping stores supplied with the best in tomatoes, corn, watermelon, peaches, blueberries and many more products.”
As locally grown continues to trend, Maxwell thinks Philadelphia is ideally located to take advantage of this movement. “We are in the center between Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and in close proximity to New York state and New England,” he says. “We also haul a lot out of Canada. Philly is very strategically placed to take advantage of locally or regionally grown and distribute it.”
WIDENING THE MIX
Philly’s continuing demographic evolution results in widening demand for product variety. Stephen Secamiglio, owner/sales at Colonial Produce, reports social media trends and ethnic influence definitely affects product sales. “When we first opened in 2012, we moved maybe six skids per week of kale,” he says. “Now, since kale has become trendy, we sell six loads a week. Methi leaves, an Indian item, is another great example. We can’t bring enough in. We’ve seen growth in items the different ethnic communities want. Ethnic items have somewhat overtaken the more traditional ones.”
M. Levin salesman Brian Kriebel heads the company’s tropicals program and is credited with the company’s success with this line. “As more and more immigrants move into the Philadelphia area, we envision our tropicals continuing to expand.”
Merchants broaden product lines to offer more to current customers. “The number of items we’ve taken on has more than doubled in the past two years,” John Hickey, managing partner at Coosemans. “We have become more than just a specialty house, adding peaches, broccoli rabe, hard squashes, the Mexican winter deal and more. We have a good base of customers, and I’m trying to sell more to those customers.”
Todd Penza, salesman with Pinto Brothers, says the company continues to add items to serve its customers’ needs. “The dynamic of the market is to always look for what more you can do for your customers,” he says. “This means changing our product mix to sell what our customers are looking for. As the marketplace has evolved demographically, so has our product mix.”
North American Produce Company (NAPCO) handles a full line of domestic and imported fruit and vegetables. “We are always looking to create better relationships with growers and have really seen growth in the last few years in our local offerings,” says John DiFeliciantonio, owner.
John Collotti, sales manager for Collotti & Sons, reports doing more with an expanded organic line. “Demand for organic is slowly increasing,” he says. “We see it as a future growth area, especially as the price has come down.”
Mushroom sales and sales of limes, avocado, garlic, and mangos are growth areas for BRS. “This is a credit to the salesmen I have,” says Rick Milavsky, president. “They are bringing in more product and moving a lot more.”
Dan Vena notes John Vena Inc.’s goal is to find the most interesting products and make them available to customers. “We’re different because of what our customers are looking for,” he says. “The process is similar, but the items are different. We now carry more than five times the number of items as we did 25 years ago and 10 times the SKUs.”
John Vena Inc. Celebrating 100 Years
John Vena Inc. was started in 1919 by the first John Vena – a young, entrepreneurial immigrant from Sicily who decided to buy wine grapes from wholesalers at the Port of Philadelphia and resell them at the Dock Street produce market to support his family. A full century later, his legacy lives on. The wholesaler is still located in Philadelphia, and still family-owned-and operated. The founder’s grandson, John Vena III, is at the helm, and the fourth generation, Dan Vena, leads the sales team.
In honor of JVI’s 100th Anniversary, the company has retooled its mission statement to capture the spirit of the team today and will soon roll out a new logo. “We are in the produce industry to make the business of food more interesting, more exciting, and ultimately more fun for our customers and their customers,” says John Vena III, president. “We think that mission is at the core of what has kept us going for a century, and what will make us successful in the next 100 years.”