Cancel OK

As Houston’s population surges, produce demand booms

Two and a half years after extreme flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage to the region, Houston’s produce trade isn’t merely recovering—it’s thriving.

How has the industry bounced back so quickly? Because H-Town is home to a growing population with an insatiable craving for fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks to this surging demand, Houston is a major market for fresh produce from across the Lone Star State, the nation, Mexico, and beyond.

Surprisingly, this sprawling city is home to just one official terminal market. The Houston Produce Center, a 56-acre facility located on Produce Row just south of downtown, leases warehouse space to wholesalers who serve the highly populated area.

Although the Houston Produce Center has upgraded its equipment and modernized its facilities in recent years, many local produce suppliers say one market is not enough to support Houston’s fresh produce trade. Some argue the city is in dire need of additional options; others say the demand simply isn’t there, since most suppliers cannot afford to rent or lease new space.

Other than the Houston Produce Center, the city’s only major source for fresh fruits and vegetables is the Houston Farmers Market located just north of downtown. Better known as Canino’s Market after its former tenant, Canino Produce Company, the almost 18-acre complex has been in business since the early 1940s. The market serves up retail and wholesale fruits, vegetables and other related items.

Big changes, however, are on the horizon for the Houston Farmers Market. The property was sold to MLB Capital Partners in 2017, a Houston-based commercial developer, which is hoping to transform the market into a “destination retail experience.”

Slated for completion later this year, the facility will add up to 60,000 square feet of retail space and offer a wider assortment of products, renovated facilities, additional parking, and dedicated greenspaces to host community wine tastings, chef demos, and local entertainment.

“As the country’s fourth-largest city and leading culinary capital, Houston is long overdue for a world-class market,” Todd Mason, managing principal of MLB Capital Partners, announced in a statement. “We are thrilled to reinvigorate this local landmark into an experiential destination for both Houstonians and visitors to enjoy.”

The downside, though, is some suppliers believe the updated market might actually limit fresh produce availability, particularly on the wholesale side.

ImPORTant Advantages
Houston produce importers and exporters enjoy a particularly valuable advantage: close proximity to a bustling, ever-expanding port. In 2018 alone, the Port of Houston handled more than 200 million short tons of international cargo. This is no surprise considering Houston is the country’s number-one region for exports.

In recent years, the Port of Houston has undergone phenomenal growth, including an addition that has proven particularly beneficial to the perishables industry: the new 300,000-square-foot refrigerated storage facility at the port’s Bayport container terminal.

The state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 2017, allows Houston receivers to import and export a greater volume of fruits and vegetables. Among the port’s top perishable imports are bananas, pineapples, and oranges.

This is multi-part feature adapted from the Texas Supplement with the March/April 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.