NEW YORK (AP) – It was the early hours of the morning and the docks of New York’s largest grocery store were bustling in the cold. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, sacks of onions, potatoes, and carrots were flying off the shelves.
Amidst the hubbub, buyers and sellers struck deals for tomatoes, mangoes and lettuce. Trucks stood ready to haul away the bounty – a cornucopia of fruit and veg destined for supermarket aisles, home refrigerators and ultimately millions of mouths across the Northeast during the gluttonous holiday season.
“This time of year is our busiest. We have Thanksgiving, we have Christmas and New Year’s. All of these are very big family and food holidays,” said Stefanie Katzman, executive vice president of S. Katzman Produce, one of the nation’s largest and oldest grocers operating at Hunts Point Produce Market.
The market is a sprawling conglomeration of wholesalers, making it the nation’s busiest fruit and vegetable distribution center, responsible for more than 60% of New York City’s daily inventory and feeding over 30 million customers, according to another Hunts Point wholesaler , E Armata Inc.
Thanksgiving is a particularly busy time of year as the quintessentially American holiday is widely celebrated across the United States.
“Our market as a whole does about three times as much business on a day like today,” Katzman said as she led a tour of her company’s cavernous warehouse, which spans a quarter of a mile (0.4 km), and Almost two football pitches offer space for products.
In a huge room, the smell of onions filled the cold air. In another, the scent of berries wafted through the room — though Katzman’s best-selling strawberries were in short supply due to inclement weather, which wreaked havoc on the growing season.
“Our market is really unique. It’s a bit like the stock market, but a little bit more intense. Since our ‘stocks’ are perishable, we can’t keep them for long in the hopes that they will appreciate in value,” Katzman said.
Not only can the place be compared to a stock exchange, but it is also a kind of Grand Central Station with delivery trucks coming in and out of the Bronx facility.
In total, Hunts Point’s wholesalers sell £2.5 billion of products a year, with around £30 million being moved on Tuesday alone. Produce ends up at places like Whole Foods, upscale grocery and specialty markets, and smaller corner shops.
Michael Rubinsky, a buyer at Market Basket, a gourmet grocery store, drives an hour’s drive from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, three times a week to inspect the merchandise.
“I come for the basics — anything like celery, lettuce, strawberries and potatoes — but quality is number 1,” he said. “I check the quality and load everything onto the truck.”
Charlie Mule, one of Katzman’s product salespeople, said consumers don’t know where their products come from.
“You ate our stuff without even knowing you ate our stuff,” Mule said. “When you go to a restaurant or a store, you probably don’t realize the full breadth of how it got there before you put it in your fridge or on your plate.”
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