Skip to main content

- Advertisement -

John Vena Inc. focusing on avocado, mango and plantain conditioning

By
Keith Loria

The Vena family’s roots in the Philadelphia produce industry date back more than a century. It’s a legacy that John Vena, president of John Vena Inc., is committed to keep going strong.

“My family has been involved in the Philadelphia and South Jersey produce community since the turn of the 20th century,” Vena said. “My paternal grandfather started this business on the original Dock Street produce market in 1919. Upward of 20 years prior to that my maternal great grandfather, Louis DiGiacomo, was farming in New Jersey. Philadelphia is a part of who we are, and I like to think that we contribute to the vibrant food scene here.” 

Operating out of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, the specialty produce wholesaler, distributor and importer continues to be one of the major players in the industry.

“Business has been good — and getting better — but it’s complicated,” Vena said. “Volumes in foodservice are still not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, although they are up significantly from 2021. Supply chain challenges are still causing ongoing delays and fluctuations in inventory that add up to missed opportunities over the course of a year.”

In response, the company has expanded its customer base in the direct-to-consumer grocery and meal-kit delivery sector, but have felt the ripple effects of unpredictable demand as pandemic shopping habits continue to shift.

“That said, growth has been steady and after a shaky 2020 we exceeded pre-pandemic performance in 2021; but even with continued revenue growth, increasing costs of doing business have put more pressure than ever on the bottom line,” Vena said. “In a low-margin industry like ours, this is an important time to stay on top of the numbers.”

 One area of focus for John Vena Inc. in 2022 is avocado, mango, and plantain conditioning.

“In 2021, we moved more boxes through our ripening rooms than ever before and we’re on track to exceed that in 2022,” said Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing for the company. “Our avocado and plantain ripening programs are well established, but we’re looking to make some noise about the benefits of mango ripening.”

The company’s import division, JVI Imports, had a solid season in 2021 with Israeli pomegranates.

“This was a new item for us, and new to much of the U.S. market,” Vena said. “Fruit quality was excellent — exceeded expectations, even. We were able to successfully move seven containers throughout the Eastern U.S.”

Now, Vena is working with the same grower on a unique Peruvian pomegranate program with fruit coming into the port of New Orleans.

“It’s been a learning experience for both us and the grower, but we believe the strategic counter-season availability of their crop will prove valuable as pomegranates move toward year-round availability,” he said. “We also had a successful season with Israeli grapefruit in 2021, but due to increasing logistics costs — including tripled costs of sea freight — it’s unlikely that there will be a program in 2022. The market can’t bear those prices.”

Last spring, John Vena Inc., welcomed a new director of production to the team, Sean O’Brien.

“Sean came to us from a company making fresh RTE meals for schools and institutions where he led the packing team of 300,” Vena said. “In his first year, Sean has focused on skill-building with his team of supervisors, evolving our staffing strategy, and launching software updates to enhance data capture. He’s been a great asset to our leadership team and we expect to see significant growth in that department this year.”

When looking at the months ahead, Vena noted it’s tough to look into the crystal ball with any confidence, as the wounds of the past two years are still too fresh.

“If nothing else, it is clear that the rise in logistics costs and staffing challenges are here to stay for the foreseeable future,” he said. “In regard to trends, we expect to see significant growth in our Latino product line. We’ve added several items focused on our Mexican customer segment and have brought on new growers to ensure we are as competitive as possible on major tropical lines.”

Keith Loria

Keith Loria

About Keith Loria  |  email

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is a D.C.-based award-winning journalist who has been writing for major publications for close to 20 years on topics as diverse as real estate, food and sports. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at magazines aimed at healthcare, sports and technology. When not busy writing, he can be found enjoying time with his wife, Patricia, and two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.

Tagged in:

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -