Hurricane Sandy disrupts northeastern distribution

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Wholesale produce distribution in the Northeast remains in limbo in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Distributors aren’t certain how long business will remain at a standstill after the Category I hurricane slammed into New York and New Jersey, devastating homes and businesses and closing supermarkets and restaurants.

The Oct. 29-30 “superstorm” prompted the closing of the New York and Philadelphia terminal markets, which escaped damage and reopened Oct. 31.

The storm disrupted produce distribution for Northeastern wholesalers and grower-shippers throughout the U.S.

“It’s a mess,” Chris Armata, president of E. Armata Inc., a wholesaler on the Hunts Point Terminal Market, said Oct. 31. “Some customers are ordering and some are then cancelling because their power has yet to be turned on. In many areas, particularly on Long Island, many retailers and most restaurants are closed.

“Overall, business is very slow with the unknown power situation. We have no idea how business will be. It’s so uncertain. We don’t know whether to order or not and we have inventory that we still need to sell through.”

Mike Maxwell, president of Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros Sales Corp., said the issue isn’t so much storm damage, but lack of power and said many chain stores throughout the Northeast remain closed.

Maxwell said some stores likely won’t reopen until Nov. 3-4 while sand remains at the doorsteps of others.

“If you’re out of power, you will end up throwing out all your produce,” Maxwell said Oct. 31. “There’s a lot of pressure on the stores now. They can’t get their people in to work. Once they do get in, they’re all in clean-up mode, not operations. There are a lot of things being pushed-back. It’s very hectic out there.”

Maxwell said stores also await visits by insurance adjusters before resuming operations.

He said he couldn’t speculate on when business would return to normal, but said it could be up to a week.

Maxwell said the stores that are open are doing brisk business but said distributors can’t deliver to many Long Island customers because the secondary highways and roadways remain blocked.

Ken Gilliland, director of transportation and international trade for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., said it could take several days before shippers determine how the road closures, delays at receivers caused by power shortages, lack of return equipment and higher rates following tighter truck availability could affect shippers.

“Everything is still kind of moving now and shipments are still going,” Gilliland said Oct. 31. “We haven’t had any issues raised by any of our members saying they’re running into difficulty getting equipment. If equipment is kind of stuck and not moving, it will be a ripple effect and will either bunch-up or catch-up and be a time when things could get tight and rates might spike for a little then.”

Grower-shippers are seeing a stoppage of orders.

“With the markets being shut down and people not at work, a lot aren’t able to get back from the (Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2012) and it has been tough to communicate,” Matt Reel, director of sales for IMG Citrus Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., said Oct. 31.

The hurricane didn’t damage Boston’s New England Produce Market and the area’s restaurants and supermarkets escaped power outages and closings, said Bill Maheras, sales manager for Chelsea, Mass.-based J. Maheras Potato & Onion.

“There were a couple of places that had phones and Internet up and down a bit, but there wasn’t any direct damage,” he said Oct. 31. “Things just kind of slowed down for a few days because distribution centers weren’t going full-tilt.”

Waves as high as eight feet damaged Long Island and coastal areas surrounding the Bronx market.

“Long Island is a disaster,” Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc., said Oct. 30. “We have no power (in Long Island). Everyone got hit real bad. All the supermarkets are empty here, especially in Long Island. People bought everything from A-Z before the storm. If don’t have any power, they won’t buy any product. I am sure they will have to fill the stores again, so things should go back to normal.”

Southern New Jersey’s fall production regions escaped serious damage, despite the hurricane making landfall within 35 miles of the fields.

“We were up all night waiting for it to come through, but were so surprised and expected damage,” Jamie Graiff, partner and sales manager of Newfield, N.J.-based Daniel Graiff Farms LLC, said Oct. 31. ”The six to seven inches of rain damaged baby arugula and baby spinach fields, but the major crop areas didn’t get a lot of damage.”

Ryan Flaim of R&R Flaim Next Generation Produce LLC, Vineland, N.J., said the storm didn’t disrupt greens and vegetable harvests.

“We fared very well considering the conditions,” Flaim said Oct. 30.


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