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Finding success in the Motor City

By
Keith Loria

The Motor City is known as the city that put the “world on wheels,” but Detroit is so much more than that today, thanks to a transformation into a modern metropolis with one of its biggest industries being produce.

For instance, as a third-generation produce family, Riggio Distribution Co., has its foundation in the Detroit area, although its business reaches far beyond the Motor City and the Detroit Terminal market it calls home.

“There are many reasons Detroit is a strong produce town, starting with all the original families that built this market into what it is today,” said Dominic Riggio, president of Riggio Distribution.

“The independent retailers, wholesalers, and distributors are all very competitive for the best price but more importantly the best product,” he added. 

Riggio Distribution’s customers include national corporate retail, independent retail, national distributors, independent food service distributors and  food manufacturers.

“We are unique in the way we use technology as a daily tool, starting with our custom software, wireless warehouse capabilities, and automated processes in shipping, receiving and accounting,” Riggio said.

“However, while technology is a big part of what makes us unique in our market, we also apply the more traditional ‘old school’ practices to our daily operations of quality control, including hands-on buying and selling, and paying close attention to accounts receivable.”

Bill Loupée, chief operating office of Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, also doing business on the Detroit Produce Terminal, touts Detroit as a rising produce city.

Of course, the city went through its challenges since the beginning of the pandemic, but by the end of 2021, things were starting to normalize. However, with omnicron becoming a big problem for the Detroit area in early January, some are worried that it could be an issue early in 2022.

“There is some change in public behavior as far as eating out, and as case counts continue to go up, that may have an effect on what happens to us and other companies,” he said. “Both times when COVID has gotten bad, we have a portfolio of customers where it’s been beneficial for us from a sales standpoint, not that that’s what we want, but we are seeing higher sales numbers. But we’d much rather see less numbers.”

Throughout Detroit, Loupée sees the produce industry as a whole recovering, with food service making huge gains since this time last year.

“Obviously, staffing is still an issue for many restaurateurs and many restaurants are operating minimum hours, but it seems like they are full for the most part and our foodservice customers are buying near their normal demand amounts,” he said. “We see that as a good thing and we just have to hope that things with COVID don’t get so bad we go back to government enforcement of indoor dining.”

In Loupée’s opinion, Detroit is a great produce town because of the independent chain stronghold that exists.

“Because there’s such a strong base of independent chains, it makes it a little bit of a prohibitive market from some of these other midsize national retail chains looking for expansion opportunities,” he said.

Rocky Produce is another company that has enjoyed success and been a big part of Detroit’s produce scene.

“We have a great team, we work together well, that’s probably the No. 1 thing, and aside from that, we have great grower-shipper partners that believe in the value of working for us and who appreciate the job we do,” said Dominic Russo, who is proud to be part of Detroit’s well-known produce industry.

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November 28, 2022

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