Produce market managers discuss challenges of 2020
The membership of a tight-knit international organization, National Association of Produce Market Managers, includes diverse “produce market” operations. But that membership has thrived because of what those 100 international members have in common. As with most other organizations in the world, 2020 brought forth common ground.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic trashed plans for the 74th annual NAPMM conference. That is now rescheduled for March 4-8, 2021, in New Orleans.
But the association worked to keep personal connections going on Nov. 6, with its 90-minute Zoom conference, titled “Facing the Pandemic, Short-term Challenge, Long-term Opportunity.”
Jim Farr, NAPMM president, opened the meeting, which was then moderated by Brendan Tydings, vice president of the organization. The leaders encouraged members to suggest topics for subsequent Zoom meetings.
One Nov. 6 speaker was Phillip Grant, general manager of New York’s Hunts Point Terminal Market, the world’s largest wholesale produce market. The other speaker was Dan Carmody, president of the Eastern Market Corporation, a cornerstone of the food system in Detroit since the 1800s.
“Every day’s been an adventure in 2020,” Carmody opened.
Carmody’s Eastern Market is a hybrid market that includes wholesale and retail businesses, which occupy 165,000 square feet of space in five buildings. There are transient and seasonal vendors and flower vendors, with artists selling their works on some Sundays. Carmody said his wholesale customers resorted to moving to some retail sales to help carry them through the difficulties of the Covid year, and he said there were constant adjustments by the market to protect vendor and consumer health.
Carmody had noticed in the past – as was confirmed this year – that consumers buy more floral products when the economy is bad. The flowers are comforting, and the small investment isn’t significant, as the shoppers have no plans to buy more-expensive items.
This year in the retail markets, the sales of expensive value-added products such as jellies were impacted because free samples were not allowed, given health concerns. Carmody noted that not many people will spend $9 to buy a jar of such product without first tasting it.
Local farmers bringing product to sell at the Eastern Market were more pressed than ever to show they conform to Good Agricultural Practices. The changes caused in 2020 may well influence market operations in the future, Carmody said.
Phillip Grant shared Hunts Point’s business continuity plan to deal with coronavirus. He said the market’s business volume dropped 30-50 percent because New York’s foodservice operations were shut down by the pandemic.
On an annual volume basis, the Hunts Point Market lost 5,000 truckloads in 2020.
By the end of March, 11,000 masks were given per week by the market to its 2,000 employees and customers entering the market. That number declined over time as people became accustomed to supplying their own mask. A New York State brewery produced $40,000 worth of hand sanitizer to be used in stations across the 1 million-square-foot facility.
Grant said employees were cross-trained to fill-in for other market positions, should certain people miss work.
Compensating for lost market administration income, to save on costs, market equipment was repaired when it might have been replaced in better times. Part of the continuity plan was for the market to have only a few specific spokesmen, who would consistently tell the market’s story to the press.
Grant’s market policies “were in lock step” with state health policies. A positive of the experience was that the market developed the ability to react and adapt around operational changes, he said.