An Ohio tourism slogan from the 1980s and ’90s, “the Heart of It All,” still rings true today for the state’s fresh produce industry. Buyers and sellers can indeed find it all in the strategically located Buckeye State, from sweet corn, squash, and pumpkins to apples, pears, and strawberries.
One supplier goes even further: “When Ohio produce is in season, I think it’s the best in the world,” says Tim Parker, vice president at Son’s Packaging, a fresh-cut processor and repacker in Akron.
Wholesalers and Terminal Markets
Ohio’s two longtime produce terminals—the Columbus Produce Terminal and the Northern Ohio Food Terminal—are snapshots of industry change. Cincinnati no longer has a produce terminal but is a major receiver as the home of Kroger, as well as the Castellinni Group of Companies.
Smaller homegrown wholesale deals are on the rise in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Most recently, Ohio has become a destination for greenhouse producers: the largest is a 45-acre NatureFresh Farms location, north of Dayton.
The Columbus terminal is newer, opening as a co-op in May 1964. Over time, share ownership consolidated: “Macaluso Fruit ended up owning all the shares in the terminal,” explains Jamie Sanfillipo, a partner and sales manager for Sanfillipo Produce Company.
Sanfillipo purchased the Columbus terminal from Macaluso in 2014. The 20-bay terminal is full, with Sanfillipo’s operations and five tenants. “We came here in 2005 and rented one of the twenty 2,000-square foot bays in the terminal,” recalls Sanfillipo. “By 2012, we were occupying 12 bays. We were paying more rent than what the mortgage would have been on the building, so we decided to make an offer on the terminal along with buying out Macaluso Fruit.”
The Northern Ohio Food Terminal, in Cleveland, opened on a 34-acre rail hub site in 1929. By the 1950s, it was home to more than 100 tenants but occupancy declined as vendors left or consolidated. The terminal enjoys location advantages, evidenced by new receiving and packing facilities built nearby, but was at less than half occupancy in late 2017. Two longtime Cleveland terminal tenants, Forest City Weingart Produce Company and Cavalier-Gulling-Wilson, ceased operations in early 2017.
The Cleveland exits opened the door for a new tenant, moving operations from Canton. “We saw the opportunity here and moved in April (2017),” states Paul Kasapis, president at P.K. Produce, Inc., calling the Food Terminal “a one-stop shop.”