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Philadelphians know food

bp philly

When it comes to food, the City of Brotherly Love is the place to be.

Sure, Pittsburgh may have been named 2019 “Food City of the Year” by San Francisco hospitality and restaurant consulting firm af&co., but which restaurant did the James Beard Foundation designate as the country’s very best in 2019? Zahav, one of Philly’s hometown favorites.

Few would dispute that Philadelphians know food. In fact, foodies and industry professionals alike agree that this historical city of nearly 1.6 million, situated halfway between the nation’s capital and New York City, is one of the most exciting places to buy, sell, and eat—right now and in the days to come.

Some might even say it’s at the forefront of another revolution, only this one is about food—and nobody knows more about what locals, as well as consumers across the state and Northeast are eating than the merchants at the renowned Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

A history of growth
There has been a terminal market in Philadelphia since colonial times, but the first modern iteration came in 1959 when city politicians and power brokers created the Food Distribution Center to replace the outdated Dock Street produce market. Included in the new facility was the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, considered at the time to be a cutting-edge terminal.

Fast forward 50 years and the market was bursting at its seams and in desperate need of an upgrade. But instead of renovating the old market, the City and Port Authority decided to build a brand-new standalone facility, one that would outshine markets around the country with its state-of-the-art technology and convenience.

All in the digits
The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM) was the sterling result, opening to much fanfare in 2011. The facility sits on 62 acres in the southwest corner of the city, not far from major artery Interstate 95, which runs the length of the East Coast corridor.

The main building boasts 686,000 square feet and 21 independent produce distributors and wholesalers who lease 69 sales units and 77 refrigerated units. What’s more, next to the principal market building is an 18,000-square-foot recycling and waste processing facility, where merchants can recycle materials like cardboard, pallets, and plastic as well as organic waste.

Interestingly, 21 separate wholesale businesses run the market as a cooperative corporation. Their landlord is the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, known as PhilaPort, which came up with the $152 million needed to build the new market. From that loan sprang a partnership that continues to thrive.

“Both PWPM and PhilaPort depend on a steady supply of produce arriving at our ports,” says PWPM general manager Mark Smith, who stepped in as head honcho in November 2018.

“So it made perfect economic sense to join forces and create a strong partnership.”

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