Philadelphia wholesalers say demand for specialty produce continues to increase, but organic product remains a small sales segment for many.
Philadelphia wholesalers say demand for specialty produce continues to increase, but organic product remains a small sales segment for many.

Depending on the supplier, demand for specialties and organic produce remains consistent to better than during the past several years.



Calls for specialties remain strong for John Vena Inc.

The Philadelphia specialties house is experiencing strong sales growth, said John Vena Jr., president.

The distributor recently began ripening plantains. Though the program is in its infancy, Vena said it’s enjoying success much like its avocado ripening.

Vena points to growing demand for South Florida tropicals, including lychee, dragon fruit and guava.

He said growers experienced a strong season and said favorable growing season weather helped them supply consistent quantities.

“For all the specialties, rather than dropping items, we’re adding them,” Vena said.

“There’s always something to add, whether it’s a new variety, a new color or a new package. We are seeing good growth on all the specialties.”

Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. enjoys success selling specialty produce, said Mike Maxwell, president.

“Ethnic specialties have been a growing segment of our business for quite a while,” he said.

“We are putting more resources into it. We manage some of the harder to source items for retail chains. We try to make life easier by providing them year-round resources.”

Specialty sales remain consistent for Coosemans Philadelphia Inc., said Martin Roth, secretary-treasurer.

Coosemans, which started its Philadelphia operation in 1992, sells about 200 stock-keeping units of exotic produce items.

Roth said demand remains variable, like other commodities that see highs and lows in supply and movement.

“Specialties have become mainstream,” he said.

“Look around you. Everyone now has them or is offering some form of them.”

Specialty demand remains high at Four Seasons Produce Inc. in Ephrata, Pa.

Ron Carkoski, president and CEO, said television food shows help drive interest.

“Some of the biggest fans and friends we have are those cooking shows,” he said. “Demand varies from time to time and throughout the year but many things showing up on those shows creates movement.”

Jon Steffy, Four Seasons’ director of sales and retail services, blogs about produce through

The blog, in its fourth year, also helps drive interest in specialties, Carkoski said.



Organic demand remains slight for many distributors on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

“We haven’t had much demand for it,” said Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., Philadelphia.

“Every once in a while, someone is looking for organics, but it’s mostly a restaurant. One thing that’s still consistent with my customers is the first thing they want to know is how much they cost.”

Wiechec said some positives about the category involve prices beginning to fall as production increases.

“Organic growers don’t need to charge as much because the growing techniques they use are better,” he said. “There are also better varieties. A lot of it has to do with research and better seeds.”

Other distributors, however — the ones that distribute through facilities on and off the market — report success with the segment.

Procacci is also seeing large demand for organics, Maxwell said.

“Organics is a huge and growing segment of our business,” he said.

“It seems to be increasing every year. The price gap between conventional and organic has lessened quite a bit as bigger growers have gotten into the deal. As product becomes more available, costs are coming down and the growth is continuous.”

Coosemans use to sell organic specialties, but the low demand didn’t justify the product offering, Roth said.

“There’s not a lot of demand for them,” he said.

“It really has to be specialized and they have to be handled properly. You have to handle everything soup to nuts. Some organic items can get completely out of hand in terms of price.”

Philadelphia-based M. Levin & Co. Inc. handles some specialty items.

“There’s always an increased demand for organic,” said Mark Levin, co-owner.

“There are some areas that can’t afford the luxury of organics. Shelf life and appearance also plays into it.”