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Community-Suffolk is the nuts and bolts of New England produce

Generations of New England retailers, restaurateurs and foodservice professionals seeking a cornucopia of fresh produce have turned to Community-Suffolk Inc.

“When it comes to the core commodities, we like to say that we’re a hardware company — we deal in potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, lettuces, squash, lemons, oranges, the whole variety of citrus and hothouse tomatoes,” said Tommy Piazza, corporate secretary of the family-run firm. “We also have a lot of consignment products, whether it be tomatoes, asparagus, actually whatever is long in the country at any given time. Because of the respect, reputation and fairness that we’ve proven over the years, we’re often called to handle any surplus commodity that’s just going on in the country at any time.”

IMG 0510Tommy, Steven and David Piazza.Established more than 77 years ago, and incorporated in 1962, today Community-Suffolk supplies produce to all of New England, New York, the Canadian Maritimes and Quebec. Headquartered in the Boston Terminal Market in Everett, MA, Community-Suffolk also operates out of the neighboring New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA, a mere 300 yards away.

“We did that for representation in both markets,” Steven Piazza, president, told The Produce News. “Our citrus operation and the dry vegetable department is in the New England Produce Center, and the wet vegetables, potatoes and onions are in the Boston Terminal Market,” he said, pointing out that a fence separates the two markets. The previous generation of Piazzas fought to put a gate between the two markets and the efforts bore fruit about 10 years ago. Today, that gate is open from 5 a.m. until noon.

Customers select Community-Suffolk for its variety, reputation and integrity, said David Piazza, vice president. “We always have a string of true values on the floor here, so if somebody is looking to compete with the major chains, they can come in here and be promoting something the same day,” he explained.

Another benefit Community-Suffolk offers is that its customers know who they are dealing with — and that person is an expert in the field.

“Each salesman has their own commodities where they buy it, sell it, manage the inventory and the accounting for it, along with the invoicing and payment,” said Tommy Piazza. “We have a celery & broccoli division that has offshoots, like flat cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy; and then we have a carrot division that also handles in a big way cabbage and cucumbers, along with some other consignment items. It could be hothouse tomatoes and asparagus. It could be green beans, pumpkins or watermelons, any seasonal items that there is a surplus of,” he said.

That set up makes one individual responsible for the category from start to finish.

“That one person can focus on their items and not have to worry about what the other guy’s doing because he’s buying and selling his own stuff,” said David Piazza. “If I’m buying the onions and the lettuce that’s all I have to worry about. I don’t have to worry about every produce item from A to Z. I guess that is how we survived this long — we are in our third generation — by concentrating on what we do best, with each individual.”

“The continuity is much stronger when it’s done this way, on a personal level, between the growers, receivers and our customers,” said Steven Piazza.

“Most of the growers know us personally,” David Piazza added. “They’ve been doing business with us for 20, 25 years or longer, so we’ve grown together with some of the biggest farming families in the country. A. Duda & Son was a very small farming operation in Florida when they started and my grandfather started and they grew together. We are still in business with them to this day.”

A similar partnership took place with Skone & Connors Produce, a potato grower based in Warden, WA.

“I started with the father Stephen, and now I speak with his son, Mike,” Steven Piazza said. “Now we’re speaking with the second generation.”

In addition to representing Duda Farms, Dole, Green Giant and other name brands, Community-Suffolk has its own proprietary Suffolk Farms and Rosebud brands. While the Rosebud brand was thought up by the Piazzas’ grandfather, Suffolk Farms is named after a one-time spinach farm in suburban Boston that the company bought years ago.

Expect Community-Suffolk to be around for generations to come as the company continually adapts by staying abreast of the latest trends and developments.

“We are paying more attention to tracking, food safety — knowing where the product comes from and tracking it, and all of the regulations that have been enforced as far as handling, shipping and storage,” Steven Piazza said.

“As the trends have changed in the different markets, so have we,” Steven Piazza continued. “There were regular carrots for the longest time, and then came the baby carrots, so we made the switch. Then varietal potatoes became more interesting than just the round whites, so varietals have become a bigger part of the operation.”

David Piazza pointed out a similar development with iceless scallions. Historically, the delicate scallions were packed in ice, but today more customers are demanding iceless scallions, so Community-Suffolk handles both. “People like Sysco, US Foods and PFG run iceless warehouses. You have to change with the times. The growers have adapted and we adapted with them. We still handle both iced and iceless, but some people will not put ice in their warehouses for safety reasons,” he said.