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S. Katzman Produce: A leader among strawberries suppliers

By
Keith Loria

S. Katzman Produce first entered the berry business in 1995. For the first few years, it was selling just a few truck loads per week, but customers loved them, so the company continued to grow its supplier base. That is when it started to receive inquiries about whether it carried the Driscoll’s label.

“Within a few years, we connected with Driscoll’s and started with just a few pallets per week of Driscoll’s strawberries,” said Stefanie Katzman, executive vice president of the Bronx, NY-based company. “We focused on quality and customer service and continued to grow both our supplier base and customer base over the years.”

Fast forward more than 25 years later, and thanks to strong partnerships with growers and a wide range of customers, S. Katzman Produce has grown into one of the biggest berry suppliers in the Northeast.

“We’re known for our berries and for carrying the top labels, and we move over 37.5 million pounds of berries annually from farm to consumer, 25 million pounds of which are strawberries,” Katzman said. “Strawberries are not only our top berry product that we sell, but are also our top selling item overall.”

She noted success in this segment of the business relies on constant communication with growers in order to plan for future markets.

“Knowing what kind of supplies and quality we can expect allows us to communicate with our customers so they can adjust retail displays and pricing in stores accordingly,” Katzman said. “For instance, we wouldn’t want to go on sale and not have enough supply to fill an order or have an influx in supply and have retail pricing set too high to move the volume.”

Because berries are delicate, it takes extra care to handle them properly and there is no room for error in the supply chain. “The cold chain needs to be maintained and product inspections need to happen consistently at every step along the way,” Katzman said. “It’s important to partner with growers who work with their pickers in the fields to make sure that the right fruit is selected. You need to have quality control sampling at each pack house to make sure nothing slips through. You need to make sure the flavor of the berries meets the required specs. Then it’s up to us as the wholesaler/distributor to make sure we are inspecting that fruit upon arrival and delivering it to our customers in a timely manner.”

Quick turnover on a commodity like berries is also very important. All products in the coolers are looked at several times a day between the company’s buyers, sales team, quality control inspectors, warehouse pickers and warehouse supervisors.

“We inspect our product consistently and thoroughly, so that if there are problems, we can react quickly and reduce shrink as much as possible,” Katzman said.

Business through the pandemic remained solid.

“The berry category has continued to grow year after year, and we’ve actually seen growers finding ways to grow more berries because demand is so high,” Katzman said. “If we look back to 10 or 15 years ago, berries were primarily sourced from California and Florida. Some berries were sourced from Mexico, but usually only small amounts from select areas, if that. Today, with demand for berries so high year-round, we’re still seeing those berries from California and Florida, but now we’re also seeing berries from larger areas of Mexico and berries from Peru. Some grower-shippers are also starting to grow berries in greenhouses to remove some of the unknown variables that come along when working with Mother Nature.”

It’s no surprise that berry grower-shippers are embracing technology to meet today’s needs, and Katzman has been really impressed by how many have been able to leverage technology to improve their products, processes and working conditions.

“In terms of the product itself, when it comes to berries it’s all about flavor, and we’re seeing our grower/shippers do some really cool things with technology to achieve great flavor,” she said. “For instance, Driscoll’s recently announced its partnership with tech company Consumer Physics to leverage its SCiO cup to measure the Brix of its berries right in the field. We’re also seeing shippers embrace greenhouse technology, which provides geographic flexibility for growers, and reduces time, cost, logistics, and transportation.”

When working with retailers, S. Katzman Produce doesn’t stop at supplying product.

“The information we pass along about what products have the flavor and volume to support a promotion in-store or when to adjust retail pricing based on volume, time of year or upcoming holidays also plays a part,” Katzman said. “Technically we are selling you berries, but in reality, it is the complete service from beginning to end that we offer our customers. This is what has made us and them successful and has contributed to our consistent growth year after year.”

Photo: Stefanie Katzman

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