The New York City Terminal Produce Market, otherwise known as “Hunts Point,” continues to rank as the largest terminal market in the world, moving more than 3 billion pounds of fresh produce each year. Hunts Point houses 41 produce wholesalers that sell more than $2 billion in fruits and vegetables annually.
This year, most merchants report that business is picking up, despite rising freight costs, a tough winter, and varied crop conditions across the country. And, as usual, the debate between rebuilding and moving the market continues, though a recent lease extension buys time.
Read on to learn why industry challenges and trends—both old and new—from the perspective of Hunts Point’s buyers and sellers provide an interesting point of reference for the industry as a whole.
Changes in produce trends at the wholesale level are never abrupt, but come about over time following changes in consumer demand that trickle down from retailers to distributors and growers. Healthy eating and a growing and diverse ethnic population in the greater New York area continue to stimulate interest in particular commodities.
Morris Okun, Inc. introduced specialty fruit to their line last year. “We started off small, but there’s definitely an increased demand for tropical fruit,” comments Thomas Cignarella, Jr., president of the 88-year-old company.
Similarly, D’Arrigo Bros. Company of New York launched a tropical line including plantains, chayote, and yuca this past spring, to meet retailer and consumer interest. Much of the increased demand is attributed to the region’s diversity, and the tendency for ethnic populations to cook more meals at home rather than dining out.
“The ethnic population is driving and maintaining the market in this area,” confirms Charlie DiMaggio, managing member at Fres Co, LLC. “They’re the ones pulling the volume of produce that comes through the market.” DiMaggio says one of the biggest trends is still avocados. “Avocados have seen an 8 percent growth rate worldwide,” he says. “Every year, they’re getting more traction and becoming more of a mainstream item.”
Jimmy Hunt, president of D.M. Rothman Company, Inc. agrees: “Fifteen years ago, an avocado was a segmented item. Now it’s like a lemon or an onion.” Hunt says other items are trending in similar fashion. “Kale and beets are becoming more regular items,” he notes. “We’re selling loose beets, and at first curly kale, and now lacinato kale is becoming popular. We’re also seeing more demand for greens like baby spinach and mesclun mix.”