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New York’s Hunts Point

Making changes at the half-century mark
New York Spotlight_MS

“Every few years you have a hot item, like the kale kick,” observes Muzyk. “I think last year it was more about local produce—not necessarily a single commodity—and that was more of a movement than a trend. In 2017 and 2018 we will be consumed with sustainability: how can we address all the food waste and be more sustainable? We must address these long-term issues.”

Baldor recently reached its goal of zero waste by partnering with other food processors and composters to handle the scraps from the more than 1 million pounds of food it processes each week.

Muzyk says such commodity driven sustainability—managing waste—is a priority now, and invariably leads to other forms of sustainability, particularly energy.

On The Road or Rails
Shipping and transporting perishables is always a challenge. Between fluctuating costs, availability of trucks, routes, and regulations, wholesalers and brokers are always seeking affordable and efficient options.

For some commodities, rail and intermodal shipping can provide a moneysaving opportunity.

“Rail has gotten better and there are more players than there used to be,” says Kazan. “But it depends on the commodity and the price.”

Because rail is slower, perishability and commodity pricing come into play. The bigger concern is trouble loads—while modern railcars do have monitoring equipment, there is no way to fix a broken reefer until the train stops at a station. “With a truck, we can call the driver right away and say, ‘Pull over, you’ve got a problem,’” Kazan explains.

“Dated items like mesclun and perishable fruit always go by truck because you want them as soon as possible,” adds Kazan. “Some of the ‘hard’ items—onions, broccoli, carrots, and so forth—can go by rail, because if the train gets delayed they probably won’t spoil.”

For Koster, using rail can alleviate two of his most vexing challenges: congestion and federal regulations. “Transportation is always an issue, especially here in the metro area where there is a lot of traffic, and there are always new regulations,” he points out. “We bring in potatoes and onions by rail, and that helps, but we use trucks for most everything else.”

Fluctuating freight rates
Other transportation headaches, freight rates and truck availability, have not been as big an issue this year. Overall, rates have been fairly steady, inching upward here and there, though with the expected seasonal fluctuations. Availability hasn’t been a constant thorn for shippers either.

“At holiday times, deliveries increase and rates tend to go up,” reiterates DiMaggio. “For example, around Mother’s Day with flowers, but that’s the norm.”