Surrounding Distributors Build Business for Future Generations

Pink Limes

The influence of younger consumers affects multiple aspects of the New York produce business, including customer trends, supplier innovation and technology development.

Michael Muyzk

Michael Muyzk — Baldor

In April 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extolled a new bridge opening and a commitment to continue ensuring New York’s infrastructure lasts for future generations with these words: “It is just the beginning, my friends. We are going to build a new New York because at the end of the day, it’s very simple: our fundamental obligation as citizens, as parents, is to leave this place a better place.”

In many ways, the centuries-old New York produce industry is committed as well to leaving something better to future generations. “Anybody who thinks the world today is going to be the world in 20 years isn’t paying attention,” says Rafael Goldberg, chief executive at Interrupcion Fair Trade in New Castle, DE. “There is so much change and opportunity created by change. We’re on the cusp of affecting the way we operate for future generations.”

The new generation of New York consumers brings youth, ethnic diversity and increasing demand for fresh to the marketplace. “The marketplace in New York has evolved toward fresh foods,” says Gene Casazza, vice president of perishables for Jetro/Restaurant Depot, headquartered in College Point, NY, and operating 122 locations with nine warehouses in the New York area, including one outside the Hunts Point Terminal Market. “Twenty years ago, Jetro/RD sold mostly canned foods, frozen foods and processed foods. Today, fresh is the driving factor.”

Lucky Lee, chief operating officer for Lucky’s Real Tomatoes in Brooklyn, NY, witnesses the trend of fresh with convenience affecting the marketplace. “Basically, when it comes to food, consumers want fresh, flavorful and fast,” she says. “The current trend of prepared salad and sandwich chains only continues to expand, and online ordering and home delivery meal services from restaurants has increased.”

Changing eating habits of new consumers challenge produce companies to stay relevant. “You have to stay current with what the market wants,” says Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations at EXP Group, LLC in North Bergen, NJ. “For example, what Millennials eat and where they shop, or how communities are evolving from one ethnic group to another. Our role is to help traditional chain customers serve evolving formats.”

The Effect Of Youth

TJ Murphy — Baldor

TJ Murphy

Younger generations not only affect the industry as consumers, but from within the business as well. “We see a revitalization of the industry as new generations get involved,” says Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., in Secaucus, NJ. “It’s a combination of family heritage, history and new ideas. The younger generations bring an affinity for new technology and an enthusiasm.”

Serafino particularly loves produce because it is family-oriented. “Look at companies on the Hunts Point Market, such as A&J or Nathel & Nathel,” he says. “They are multi-generational businesses and going strong. EXP is a second-generation business now, and our generation continues a passion for produce. You set yourself up for decades of success by having family gravitate toward the industry. My father never pushed me into it; I was raised with a love for it and wanted to come work here.”

Auerbach notes the importance of the intergenerational connection. “Younger generations come into the business with a pride in the multi-generational aspect,” he says. “It’s more about the generations working together rather than one succeeding the other. It’s what we learn from each other.”

When queried about what the next generation means to Eli & Ali Organic and Specialty Produce in Brooklyn, NY, co-owner Jeff Ornstein replies, “Everything. They provide fresh eyes, a fresh outlook, and excitement and enthusiasm. They can sell better to their own generation than I could.”

“A benefit of having younger people involved is how they have a fresh perspective on things.”

— Anthony Serafino, EXP Group

Ornstein’s son, Elijah Booth Ornstein, serves as chief operating officer at Eli & Ali and believes his generation brings awareness and knowledge to the table. “We have an innate sense about technology, social media and other influencers on today’s consumer,” he says. “We have a unique approach.”

Having younger generations involved helps a business stay current, according to Serafino. “I always tell people, don’t get lost in the past,” he says. “A benefit of having younger people involved is how they have a fresh perspective on things. For example, we are bringing in organic bananas for the first time — the younger generations helped encourage us to do this.”

Interrupcion continually looks for opportunities to bring younger generations into the business and onto its team. “Our company especially appeals to the younger mindset because of our mission and values,” says Goldberg. “As well, some of our creative energy has been placed recently in making investments in how to interact and educate children and youth to engage them with produce.”

Changing Product Demand

With the evolving generations, New York consumer demographics also continue to change and affect business. Serafino says the New York marketplace is evolving in a way not experienced before as far as product mix. “We’re seeing a demand for a variety of produce we haven’t seen previously,” he says. “We see an increasing demand for new or unique produce. Customers are looking not only for yucca, but also for different types of yams and plantains. The acceleration of demand for tropical, including mangos, avocados and yucca, is amazing.”

When Vision Import Group, LLC in Hackensack, NJ, first opened, the company focused on core items of mainly limes and mangos. Though these are still core items, Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales, says the company has expanded into many other items, including strong business in lemons and pineapples. “Like any business, you must watch consumer trends and constantly evolve,” he says. “We keep our finger on what’s going on in the marketplace, but also try to be progressive and ahead of the curve.”

RBest Produce Inc., (El Sol Brands) in Port Washington, NY, carries a full assortment of tropicals, as well as traditional items specific to the Latin cultures throughout New York. “We serve a high percentage of Latino customers, and we satisfy their needs quite well,” says John Annetta, director of sales. “Millennials are also having an effect on the market insofar as specialty items are concerned.”

Tropical and specialty products are driven by the continued rise in stores serving these demographics. Vision reports continued expansion in ethnic retail in the New York area. “In Fort Lee, NJ, there are many different stores servicing their unique communities,” he says. “Around the area you see increasing presence of small and large ethnic retailers, including H Mart (headquartered in Lyndhurst, NJ) and 99 Ranch Market (headquartered in Buena Park, CA).”

“The exposure to a greater number of cultures and ethnicities my generation experiences definitely leads to broader food trends.”

— Josh Auerbach, Maurice A. Auerbach Inc.

According to Josh Auerbach, sales and procurement at Auerbach, ethnic stores and restaurants drive trends affecting the larger landscape because they make items available to create a larger market. “There is just so much variety beyond what most of the mainstream American market sees,” he says. “These diverse customers present a great opportunity to market these items and expand their presence.”

Auerbach believes younger generations contribute to building ethnic and specialty demand. “The exposure to a greater number of cultures and ethnicities my generation experiences definitely leads to broader food trends,” he says. “Younger generations are more multicultural and are more prone to experiment and try new ingredients and flavors.”

EXP’s Serafino agrees the expansion of product variety is due to a broadening consumer palate, as well as growth in ethnic populations. “We have more and more demand for unique products, such as sour oranges and sweet lemons,” he says. “Avocados are bigger than ever — we’ve never seen avocado demand at such a crazy rate. There is a growing trend of these types of products gaining market share.”

Values Instead Of Just Value

Ronnie Cohen and Raul Millan

Ronnie Cohen and Raul Millan — Vision Import Group

The new consumer also affects product mix with respect to value attributes. “Millennials and other new generations are paying attention to green, sustainability and convenience,” says Vision’s Cohen.

Younger generations, according to Lucky’s Lee, are asking questions about the source and origin of their food. “They choose to spend their money where it connects to a good purpose, whether it be supporting farms or connecting to a cause,” she says.

Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., in Bronx, NY, puts this trend in context. “For years, the answer to ‘what’s trending’ has been a particular product,” he says. “Four years ago, it was kale skyrocketing in demand or a category like organics. However, what we see Millennials bring is more of a conceptual trend. Last year, we saw more emphasis on local and knowing where food is coming from. I think 2017 will be the year of sustainability. For example, look at issues such as who is managing waste better. It’s not necessarily a commodity to satisfy consumer needs, but more a values concept.”

“I think 2017 will be the year of sustainability For example, look at issues such as who is managing waste better. It’s not necessarily a commodity to satisfy consumer needs, but more a values concept.”

— Michael Muzyk, Baldor Specialty Foods Inc.

Ben Friedman, president of Riviera Produce Corp. of Englewood, NJ, forecasts a continuing commitment to local and sustainable product. “Millennials and the generations after them want these values in their products,” he says. “Even our generation now cares more about where the product comes from. Consumers are looking more into health and social aspects, and we’ll continue to see more support for better goods with the caveat that they don’t cost too much more.”

The emphasis on younger consumers continues to transform Interrupcion’s business. “New generations are increasingly connected and informed,” says Goldberg. “They are used to sharing and connecting, and want to understand more about their food in different ways. As opposed to consumers shopping on traditional buying criteria such as price and quality, now you have a whole move toward experience and enhanced connection to food.”

Jetro/Restaurant Depot’s Casazza sees younger generations driving the trend to fresh, natural, and less processed foods. “The move to fresh, natural, unadulterated foods will continue to grow and emphasize organics and locally grown,” he says.

Organics And Beyond

New York area wholesalers are bullish on organics. “Organics continue to grow,” says Floyd Avillo, president and chief operating officer at FreshPro Food Distributors in West Caldwell, NJ. “Product trends remain in flux as Millennial shopping patterns continue to evolve. In 20 years, we could see the percentage of organics to conventional flip-flop; if today organics is 25 percent, then conventional might be 25 percent.”

Organic demand is outpacing conventional business for Eli & Ali. “Organics are becoming mainstream,” says Ornstein. “Local is big, but in terms of our business, organic is a major part and keeps growing.”

“The move to fresh, natural, unadulterated foods will continue to grow and emphasize organics and locally grown.”

— Gene Casazza, Jetro/Restaurant Depot

RBest reports experiencing slow but constant organic demand, especially as the price gap between conventional and organic narrows. “Prices are coming down, although not yet to where conventional product prices are,” says Annetta. “Prices are better than where they were a year ago.”

A continued emphasis on organic and other attributes is crucial to meet the demands of new consumers, advises Goldberg. “With our key categories, our focus is on creating products with the highest nutritional content, organic, produced under principals of fair trade and delivered in a format the customer wants.”

The New York marketplace also intersects convenience and novelty, as businesses such as FreshPro deal with innovation in value-added products. “Items such as veggie noodles and broccoli and cauliflower rice are trending now,” says Avillo. “We need to be prepared to meet current demand, but also be ready for the next trend.”

“In 20 years, we could see the percentage of organics to conventional flip-flop; if today organics is 25 percent, then conventional might be 25 percent.”

— Floyd Avillo, FreshPro Food Distributors

Riviera’s Freidman reports the restaurant sector demands focus on products foodservice can more easily prepare and serve. “Though fine dining has still resisted embracing fresh-cut for most other foodservice segments — especially country clubs, catering and institutional — it’s become more than half of what they’re buying,” he says. “These include products such as chopped celery, cut and washed kale, halved Brussels sprouts and zucchini noodles. This is driving foodservice business and is trickling down to retail as consumers are exposed to it at foodservice.”

Paul Auerbach predicts continued development of new and different production formats to meet growing consumer demands. “We expect further emergence of organics and an increasing trend of urban farming to meet more local demand,” he says.

Changing Customer Formats

In addition to changes on the supply side, evolving retail and foodservice formats also affect New York’s food business environment. “The traditional brick-and-mortar grocery stores — especially the big superstores, are becoming dinosaurs,” says Vision’s Cohen. “As new consumer groups come of age, the dynamic of where and how people shop is changing. The home delivery business is expanding and foodservice home delivery especially is changing the dynamic of the marketplace.”

Pat Mele III, FreshPro executive vice president and chief financial officer, agrees the marketplace is becoming more fragmented. “For example, home meal delivery has spawned a variety of companies, including Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated and Martha & Marley Spoon,” he says.

On the retail side, Ornstein reports the advent of companies such as Peapod and FreshDirect also affects change in the industry. “The convenience these formats offer bolsters their business and affects the brick-and-mortar stores,” he says.

RBest’s Annetta believes home delivery will continue to play a significant role in changing the way product is distributed. “This is especially true in heavily populated urban environments,” he says. “People are willing to pay higher costs for the convenience of having their goods delivered to their doorstep.”

Baldor Specialty Foods supplies many of these new-style formats, and Muzyk explains the need for managing it differently. “For many of these concepts, we’re looking at a pallet of turnips instead of a bag. It requires my supply chain to be tightened more and have more transparency, more forward thinking and more planning. We also see changes in product assortment and volume. In the past, if I had a new customer and he needed an edible orchid, I had a few on hand to give. If Blue Apron says it needs edible orchids, I need to have pallets to give them. It’s a different dynamic.”

Interrupcion’s model fits well into these emerging formats. “From the beginning, our mission and vision set us up to appeal to the consumer looking for more information and connection with the grower,” says Goldberg. “We benefit from all different formats, from online shopping to stores that do more with social media. These formats favor unique products with a compelling story and a reason to buy. Our business and our values are very well aligned with these new methods people use to buy food.”

Josh Auerbach feels new generations will continue to support new formats, yet old formats will maintain relevance as well. “Younger people have a level of comfort with alternative outlets, and future generations will likely continue to find new ways of purchasing food, developing recipes and finding information about products,” he says. “However, traditional ways of buying will continue as well — they’re not going to completely disappear.”

Changing market dynamics is also leading to a rise in smaller specialty stores in New York City, according to FreshPro’s Avillo. “As the big get bigger it leaves room for smaller specialty stores,” he says. “Also in Manhattan, we see major specialty chains entering, including Fairway, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.”

Trending retail consolidation and the more competitive marketplace lead wholesalers such as Riviera to greater collaboration. “For example, we have greater cooperation with Hunts Point,” says Friedman. “The merchants there look to us to see how we can work together in certain items, or with some customers to better both our businesses.”

Auerbach works more with its wholesaler customers to help increase business for all. “The chain business is still important, but there are many other places people buy produce now,” says Bruce Klein, director of marketing. “We want to help our customers take advantage and understand all these growing segments.”

Technology & Innovation

Changing consumers and evolving sales formats have resulted in a greater emphasis on technology. “You must be up-to-date with technology to be competitive,” says EXP’s Serafino. “There can be reluctance to utilize new technology in produce because we are a centuries-old industry. However, more and more companies are using technology now — especially as the younger generations become involved. We see more technology in certifications, ripening technology and ordering.”

Technology is affecting the whole outlook on food, according to Eli & Ali’s Booth Ornstein. “When you go on Instagram, for example, there is a whole world dedicated to what food is supposed to look or taste like,” he says. “We haven’t had that type of exposure before; now it’s easily accessible.”

“Our business and our values are very well aligned with these new methods people use to buy food.”

— Rafael Goldberg, Interrupcion Fair Trade

Communication has emerged as a key area for technology application in produce. “Technology allows people to communicate quicker than ever before,” says Eric Kanowitz, founder of T.A.P. Market in Hoboken, NJ, a trading platform for companies related to transportation, agriculture and produce. “We’ve seen the progression of technology throughout the past 15 years — from fax to email. Digital photos now play a major role in the industry.”

Baldor’s Muzyk points to how smartphones free up customers to place orders and do business in more flexible ways. “We as vendors need to be ready to respond to those needs,” he says. “If you’re not capable of meeting that need for them, you’ll be gone.”

Avillo of FreshPro agrees old school buyers were very traditional, but new buyers are using more technology. “The old school was very set in what they wanted, but the newer generation seems more open,” he says. “They give us more flexibility as the business changes and are more open to doing things differently.”

Baldor foresaw the new future of communication and redesigned its website to accommodate evolving buyer styles. “Baldor not only sees what’s coming down the street, but we peer around the corner,” says Muzyk. “We saw these changes and trends coming, and developed the website to meet the trend of non-verbal communication.”

Auerbach is also redesigning its website. “The new site offers more information about the company, our food safety and what we handle,” says Klein. “The site will be continually updated so it stays relevant. It’s a dynamic tool for us, not a static one.”

Technology increasingly impacts the warehouse side as well, as evidenced at FreshPro. “Our warehouse is bar-coded and number-oriented,” says Avillo.

Investment in more efficient inventory management and logistics software is of growing importance for profitability. “Decreasing margins drive us to use technology to operate as efficiently as possible,” says Riviera’s Friedman. “We need better software and more efficient trucks. The competitive environment challenges operators and distributors like never before.”

Technology at RBest’s state-of-the-art facility allows all products to be stored at optimum temperatures to maintain the integrity of each particular product. “We maintain the cold chain better than anyone,” says Annetta. “In contrast, jobber trucks sell inferior product. The problem is when stores only look at price they don’t realize in a day or two what they bought is wilted and unsaleable. Store owners do not spend enough time considering how investments in the cold chain affect their profitability.”

A New Platform

Alan Marcelli and Lucky Lee

Alan Marcelli and Lucky Lee — Lucky’s Real Tomatoes

One example of technology creating a potential new tool for produce is T.A.P. Market, a produce industry-specific social media platform. Launched earlier this year, T.A.P. Market allows produce industry professionals a system to connect, communicate and share pictures with their customers. “We have built a social media, photo sharing platform similar to Instagram but focused on the needs of produce,” says Kanowitz. “Our goal was to replicate the advantages offered on social media sites with different areas on the T.A.P. platform with a specific produce application.”

Kanowitz says one use of the platform allows companies to send photos to customers before product is shipped to show the condition of fields or product. “Or, a company can put photos of its packing line, pictures of sales people or other information to reinforce its expertise,” he says. “Companies can upload a PDF file with price sheets, and the platform has an instant messenger-type feature.”

According to Kanowitz, buyers are increasingly asking for photos of product before they purchase or as quality check. “More companies are using social media to promote products,” he says. “The next level of technology is for the industry to use platforms, such as T.A.P. Market, to access additional contacts in the industry, making communication much simpler and facilitating business.”

A major benefit of T.A.P. Market is its integration with the Produce Reporter Co., Carol Stream, IL, allowing users to leverage real-time Blue Book data. “With this new integration, T.A.P. Market users can log into T.A.P. Market using their Blue Book log-in credentials and even pre-populate their profile page with real-time Blue Book information,” says Kanowitz. “Blue Book members using T.A.P. Market can view Blue Book ratings, scores and other relevant information within the T.A.P. Market platform.”

While these types of technological tools may seem foreign to many industry members, Kanowitz predicts the younger generations will embrace it. “Younger generations have the advantage of growing up with technology,” he says. “I’m third generation in this industry. I work with my father in a brokerage business, and his generation would never even consider some of the technology we use; but it’s everyday life now. The internet has played such a major role in other industries, but produce is just scratching the surface.”

The next generations bring an easy understanding of technology agrees Riviera’s Friedman. “Smart devices and computers are a must now,” he says. “Understanding and utilizing technology, while still having good interpersonal skills, is crucial for future success. This summer my sons, Jerome and Dylan, will be starting work in the warehouse. We look forward to what we can teach them and what they can teach us.”

Kanowitz aims to have platforms such as T.A.P. Market become a standard way for people to conduct business. “There needs to be a fresh perspective on how to reinvent the industry and a lot of problems come from a lack of communication,” he says. “Buyers are younger and there are more without field experience, so how do you get that buyer into the field? You build a platform to bring the field to the buyer. I’m hoping T.A.P. reinvents a level of personalization for the industry.”

Vision’s Cohen believes new generations will change the industry for the better. “They are adaptable to the new demands and technologies coming,” he says. “We have to learn how to be more self-sufficient and do more with less.”

A Word of Advice

What Do Experienced Industry Members Want to Share With the Next Generation?

Experienced New York industry veterans value the contributions of the next generation but also convey words of wisdom gleaned over many years in the industry. “Excellence is a habit,” says Gene Casazza, vice president of perishables for Jetro/Restaurant Depot. “Do your best every day, regardless of the position you have. Good things will come.”

Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., in Secaucus, NJ, advises new generations to look to learn experience and patience from older generations. “They always want to strive to do new things and look for new customers, but they can also take a lot away from the generations who’ve been doing this for decades,” he says.

Looking at the bigger picture is advised by Bruce Klein, Auerbach director of marketing. “You need to look beyond just the day to day — it’s not just one deal,” he says.

Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., in Bronx, NY, encourages young employees to blend their youth and knowledge with the best of the past. “There has to be some give and take,” he says. “They may need to work harder or different than they anticipated but they can find some compromise as well. Don’t throw all the stuff from the past out. Eventually, differing generations need to meet in the middle.”

Produce’s concentration on relationships is also stressed. “We know the importance of being customer-driven, not sales-driven,” says Josh Auerbach, sales and procurement at Auerbach. “Many customers we have today were created before I was even born. There are some businesses I deal with whose grandparents did business with my grandparents.”

Elijah Booth Ornstein, chief operating officer at Eli & Ali Organic and Specialty Produce in Brooklyn, NY, emboldens new generations to never be scared to voice an opinion. “Bringing in new ideas and fresh concepts to a company is always a game changer, and a good company will always be looking for that,” he says.

Rafael Goldberg, chief executive at Interrupcion Fair Trade in New Castle, DE, cautions against complacency. “No matter how successful you are, continue learning and investing in yourself,” he says. “Produce is a dynamic industry, so you want to always be prepared for what comes next.”

Gaining as much experience as possible in the product is advised by John Annetta, director of sales for RBest Produce Inc., Port Washington, NY. “Take an interest in what you do and enjoy what you are doing,” he says.

Investing for the Future

New York Companies Continue Expanding Physically, Logistically and Product-Wise to Meet Future Demands

By Jodean Robbins

Significant expansion of warehouse space and operations illustrates the bold and bullish attitude of many New York distributors. Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., in Bronx, NY, is adding 100,000 square feet to its already existing 170,000-square-foot facility. “This allows us to offer an even larger variety of product,” says Michael Muzyk, president. “Twenty years ago, we had 300 to 400 items in stock; today it’s 6,000.”

Baldor has also made a major investment in a warehouse management system. “This system will allow us to better manage inventory,” says Muzyk. “The better I can understand and have total transparency on the transportation and warehousing of product, the better I can serve my customers.”

EXP Group, LLC in North Bergen, NJ, has a goal of increasing its logistics capability by 25 percent, according to Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations. The company is also looking to build seven more banana ripening rooms, resulting in a total of 28 rooms. “We’ve had plenty of interest expressed for ripening more products,” he says. “The technology of ripening is vastly different from what it was years ago. We have an app to manage our ripening rooms; it’s unbelievable how efficient our process is.”

EXP also reports having plenty of physical space for expansion. “The facility we own is 300,000 square feet, but currently we only occupy 50,000 square feet of it,” says Serafino. “We have expanded our facility to handle bigger volumes and ripening rooms, and we still have room to expand. We’re also investing in technology to make the company more sustainable and efficient, including putting solar panels on the building and employing advanced traceability software to keep track of inventory.”

Product Expansion

As Vision Import Group, LLC in Hackensack, NJ, prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018, the company looks to grow its value-added lines. “We now offer limes in a 2-pound modified atmosphere-type bag with a ziploc and handle,” says Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales. “We’re adding lemons to this style packaging and will be offering a 2-pound bag of mixed limes and lemons. We need to do what works for the consumer.”

In mangos, Cohen reports a big push for ripe-and-ready conditioning similar to what has transpired in avocados. “We have some strategic partners with the ability to condition fruit,” he says. “We’ll be helping our customers look at what they’re trying to achieve with mangos. Then we can get the right fruit for them in the condition they need.”

One of the biggest pushes at Interrupcion Fair Trade in New Castle, DE, has been to expand the seasons for which it can supply various products. “Our blueberry program has continued to grow and is one of our strongest with year-round availability of organic blues,” says Rafael Goldberg, chief executive. “We’ve gotten into the organic fair trade pineapple deal in the past year, and we’re excited about that.”

Additionally, Interrupcion’s strawberry operation in Salinas/Watsonville, CA, has allowed the company to expand fair trade to domestic operations. “We’re excited to be working on our own domestic fair trade initiatives,” says Goldberg. “We’ve also partnered with some customers to identify opportunities where they want us to plant for them as part of our rotation. We’re now shipping our first organic artichokes.”

Eli & Ali in Brooklyn, NY, constantly looks at developing new packaging. “We’ve always done that to some extent, but are even more focused on it now to meet evolving consumer demands,” says Jeff Ornstein, co-owner. “Taste remains a key focus within our new packaging. We want to put out the best eating product we can.”
Riviera Produce Corp. of Englewood, NJ, is instituting additional product lines, including dairy and grocery, to better serve produce customers.“If we expand what we offer, we can even better service the customers we have, offering them more items from the same reliable vendor,” says Ben Friedman, president.

Bruce Klein, director of marketing at Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., in Secaucus, NJ, speculates in the future the business may see increasing interest in value-added and variety. “It’s likely in the future we’ll sell a greater variety of different customers and thus need to increase our product line even more,” he says. “I expect we’ll add more products to meet the needs of manufacturing and ingredient customers, for example.”

Despite future new developments, many New York companies emphasize the value of their fundamental business. Josh Auerbach, sales and procurement at Auerbach, stresses the importance of maintaining a core focus. “It’s important to keep perspective and not abandon the roots of our commodity business,” he says. “There will always be a demand for bulk garlic and ginger.”

Lucky’s Real Tomatoes in Brooklyn, NY, began more than 35 years ago as a farm-to-fork specialty company specializing in American field-grown, sun-ripened and flavorful tomatoes. “Although processes have changed and evolved, our original mission statement remains the same — to provide flavorful tomatoes to our customers 12 months a year,” says Lucky Lee, chief operating officer. “Service remains a crucial aspect of our business and always will be. Especially with perishable products, service is key to providing the best product.”

A Safe Investment

Food safety is another crucial investment area in which New York companies are investing for the future. “Many of the younger generations are involved
in food safety,” says Klein. “This is something ingrained in their thinking. A lot of food safety also has to do with recordkeeping and computers, which may not be an easy task for the older generations but is second-nature to younger ones.”

Auerbach prides itself on having the most up-to-date, comprehensive food safety programs. The company is SQF Level 2 certified. “Obtaining this rigorous certification serves as validation to our customers that our products meet the highest standards,” says Klein. “This standard is recognized by GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) and highly desired by retailers and foodservice providers around the world who require a credible HACCP-based food safety management system.”

Serafino reports EXP has long complied with FSMA and other regulations because of its facility. “We pride ourselves on having a very clean warehouse facility,” he says. “We keep up-to-date with all the regulations, but every year we look to do more — we never want to plateau.”

Due to its fresh-cut operations, FreshPro in West Caldwell, NJ, posts an outstanding food safety regimen. “We are well-versed in food safety and traceability,” says Pat Mele III, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “We already have in place a lot of the requirements for FSMA. We are ready to continue to implement any additional processes we’ll need in the future and to remain serving our customers with the highest standards.”