A passing age for terminals in the Midwest

The age of terminal markets appears to be passing as direct sourcing continues to increase.

“I’ve watched Pittsburgh dwindle down to one company,” says Ron Miller, president of Cleveland’s Miller Quality Produce Inc. {{BB #:152697}. “I’m watching it happen here in Cleveland.”

He can remember a time when the Cleveland terminal had fifty-two suppliers, but “we’ve got four left,” including his company.

“Overall a lot of the terminal markets are more or less a dying breed,” he says. “It’s a tough end of the business to be in. The large companies use terminals for fill-in,” although there still are walk-in customers. “We still get decent business from farmers’ markets,” he notes.

In Milwaukee, Bill Dietz, president of Heartland Produce Company in Kenosha, WI, {{BB #:133466}} says, “There’s not too many people up there now, but the people that are left up there are doing pretty well.”

Terminals in larger markets can offer a different picture.

Rob Strube, president of Chicago’s Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, {{BB #:102030}} sums up the picture in his: “Luckily all direct sourcing here in Chicago comes up short, for whatever reason. We’re here to fill the shorts. Because of all the independents, the Chicago International Produce Market will/should always thrive.” Also, he adds, “we cross-dock for a lot of our shippers to the bigger chains.”

The highly perishable nature of produce necessitates a different approach to that of many industries: with the exception of hardier items such as potatoes, onions, and watermelons, storage for any but the shortest period of time isn’t feasible.

“After something has passed two or three days,” says Miller, “customers feel it’s lost shelf life.”

As a result, he sees a trend toward “ordering less product and shipping in smaller supplies. “We’re not a warehouse,” he stresses, “we’re a distribution center. The quicker we get it in and out the door, the better.”

This is a multi-part spotlight feature on Midwest produce adapted from the October 2019 issue of Produce Blueprints.

Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published eleven books.