By Produce Business
Stretched out onto 113 acres, the Hunts Point Cooperative Market is the largest food terminal market of its kind in the world – that doesn’t sell flowers. It is estimated the Hunts Point Market employs more than 10,000 people directly and indirectly, supplying 23,000 restaurateurs and providing 60 percent of the produce that feeds the area’s 23 million people.
Hunts Point opened in 1967 with more than 130 produce companies. Ten of those original wholesalers who were on The Washington Street Market moved to The Hunts Point Market: Nathel & Nathel (then Wishnatzki & Nathel), S. Katzman Produce, E. Armata, D’Arrigo, Joseph Fierman & Son, Rubin Bros., Kleinman & Hochberg (now LBD), Robt. T. Cochran, A.J. Trucco and M&R Tomato. These firms have expanded and grown in the past 52 years. Today, after tremendous consolidation, there are 32 firms in total.
How do you feed 20.3 million people? It sounds like a mind-boggling feat, but it’s what the farmers, suppliers, produce wholesalers, distributors, retailers and shippers that work in the New York Metro area do every day. According to the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) of the U.S. Census Bureau, 20,320,876 people live in the area defined as the New York, Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA metropolitan statistical area (MSA). In New York City alone, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the number of people at 8,398,748 as of July 2018.
When Nathel & Nathel opened at Hunts Point, the company was called Wishnatzki & Nathel. The name change came in 1997, when brothers Ira and Sheldon, the company’s third generation, took over. It was their grandfather who started his business with a pushcart in 1922 in Brooklyn. Today, with tremendous consolidation, Nathel & Nathel is among the largest companies at Hunts Point with an average of 100 trucks delivering produce every day.
“Nothing compares to Hunts Point,” says Steve Kaplan, whose company, Florida Produce Brokers, Inc. in Stuart, FL, provides mostly corn and leafy greens to the New York area. “It is in class by itself. Nothing is larger and nothing compares to the scope of what goes on there all the time. It’s the largest wholesale market in the world.”
In the produce trade, transportation issues can arrive at a moment’s notice and attention must be given immediately.
“In our business there are so many factors affecting transportation and it has such a big effect on us,” says Stefanie Katzman, executive manager, S. Katzman Produce. “We try to mitigate it as much as we can by sourcing from multiple locations and trying to maintain an on-hand inventory, but there is only so much that can be done. Logistics is one of the most challenging parts of our industry because so much is out of our control, and everything that affects timing just trickles right down the line. There can be product delays at loading, hold-ups at previous stops, traffic, equipment issues, and about a hundred other things that affect the transporting of products from farm to table.”
Why would a wholesaler choose to hire a truck – which means dealing with the driving limits of the electronic logging device (ELD) – instead of a train? The ELD records the number of hours the driver has been driving, ensuring that the driver gets enough rest and is safer on the roads. Still, pulling off for a few hours to rest means unproductive time for perishable items.
“There is actually a lot of traffic on the railways,” says Evan Kazan, director of business development for Target Interstate. Located at Hunts Point Market, Target specializes in transporting produce. Since there are a lot of railcars on each train it takes longer to get them loaded and unloaded.
Instead of a one-day transfer, it can become two to three days. A trip that used to take six to seven days, now it is taking as long as nine days. At that point, especially when you’re dealing with produce, you’re better off going with trucks, says Kazan.
Since last year, capacity and freight rates have gone down. That means, produce wholesalers don’t have the same issues as in 2018. “Now the price difference is not as big of a difference. You are not looking at thousands of dollars, you’re looking at hundreds. For $500, I may decide it is worth it to get me my load to its destination three days earlier even if I am paying a little more. When the freight rates made the difference in price $2,000, wholesalers were faced with a potentially expensive dilemma.