Bushwick commission carries on family legacy
Even though the Bushwick Commission works with onions and other mixed vegetables from throughout the northeast region, potatoes are its core business, making up the majority of its sales.
“Our grower partners assist us to satisfy the needs of our customers up and down the Atlantic seaboard,” said Ken Gray, executive vice president of the Farmingdale, NY-based company. “With logistics continuing to be a growing challenge, our customers appreciate our ability to provide just-in-time delivery and daily service to maintain stocks on a staple item like potatoes.”
The Bushwick Commission has been in the potato business since 1934, cultivating four generations of family members serving customers.
“From the original produce stands and pushcarts in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, we’ve grown to become a full-service supplier offering daily delivery up and down the East Coast, but with the same kind of service and quality that our business and reputation was built on from day one,” Gray said. “There may be more needs for technology, sustainability, merchandising solutions and new varieties, but service will always be something that never changes.”
The company understands that the key to success in the potato industry is consistency.
“Potatoes are a staple or ‘hardware item’ as they are often referred to,” Gray said. “There isn’t a lot of up and down or volatility like other commodities so buyers expect their supplier to offer consistent supplies, consistent solutions, consistent pricing and a solid knowledge of the category to bring forward new merchandising ideas or opportunities as they come up.”
The category was certainly one of the winners of the pandemic era and continues to feel the sales and volume lift as the calendar heads to 2022.
“People eating at home and cooking more helped the average consumer rediscover potatoes,” Gray said. “They were certainly drawn to the tried and true favorites, but they were also ready for meal inspiration and ethnic flavors as they got back to the business of home cooked meals. The good news is this trend has appeared to be continuing throughout 2021 and early indications are that fall/holiday sales of potatoes are trending up heading into holidays.”
Some key trends the company is noticing in the category are the move to smaller pack sizes, the need for sustainable packaging and continued emphasis on new varieties.
“Each of these items is about meeting the consumer where they are and listening to their needs,” Gray said. “Smaller households are conscious of food waste and are driving smaller packs like the 3-pound bag, and a growing demand for more eco-friendly solutions has us actively looking at best solutions and new products for recyclable and biodegradable/compostable packaging. These are not trends — these are real concerns of the majority of consumers and they cannot be ignored if we want to stay relevant.”
Overall, the U.S. potato crop is down slightly, and prices are stable. Maine saw an excellent harvest for both quality and volume, which Gray noted has to do with an increased demand for more local product that offers quality and price with proximity to market.
“The biggest trend for continuing to grow the business will be providing consumers with new and inspired meal inspiration,” he said. “As pandemic concerns subside and people head back into restaurants and eat out more, they will leave their home kitchens unless we give them reasons to stay. As suppliers, we have an opportunity to provide our retail partners with more recipe inspiration, more in-store merchandising solutions and even more online digital content to help them better highlight potatoes to their consumers.”
Never resting on its laurels, Bushwick has plenty of new things in the works.
“This season we have updated the design of our guarantee packaging, we have focused on moving toward more sustainable packaging, we have begun to benchmark our sustainability efforts and we expanded acreage of the new Caribou variety of russet potato developed by the University of Maine,” Gray said. “Evolution is a necessary reality and change is the only real thing we can count on. We want to listen to our customers and the consumers and continue to find ways to meet them where they are with the hope that we can be here for many more generations carrying on our family legacy.”