(Aug. 13) ST. LOUIS — The cost of operating in the produce industry is higher than ever and with several factors — like fuel and up-to-date technology — influencing expenses, it continues to climb.

On the St. Louis Market, several vendors have updated their facilities to enhance the efficiency of operations and cut expenditures.

  • Sun Farm Food Service installed compact fluorescents in its warehouse, said owner Sam Sanfilippo;


  • United Fruit & Produce Co. put a generator in its 60,000-square foot building that can run for two days with no fuel, said president Charlie Gallagher Sr.;


  • Independent Fruit & Produce Co. rewired all its electric work for the first time in 40 years, said partner Steve Wielansky; and


  • H.R. Bushman & Son Corp. plans to integrate its computer and phone systems to improve its traceability efforts, said co-owner Sal Pupillo.

Gallagher said the generator installation was a big investment because United has witnessed some serious disruptions in recent years.

“We started buying some generators to protect ourselves,” Gallagher said. “In the last five years, we’ve had some major outages of electricity.”

TRANSPORTATION CHOICES

To help alleviate trucking woes, Pupillo said he would like to see Railex — a train that ships from Rotterdam, N.Y, to Wallula, Wash. — establish a Midwest loading point, so St. Louis produce companies could have a trucking alternative.

“I’m paying almost twice as much this year for freight out of California,” Pupillo said.

Good news might be on the horizon for Pupillo and other local vendors, as Railex is looking for drop points between Memphis and St. Louis, said Paul Esposito, senior vice president of sales and logistics for Railex, Riverhead, N.Y.

“We have not drilled down to the center part of the U.S. yet, and we’re determined,” said Paul Esposito, senior vice president of sales and logistics for Railex, Riverhead, N.Y.

Although having rail available would be ideal, Pupillo was concerned about Railex’s timeliness — rumor had that it was taking between 11-14 days to move freight from Washington to New York, he said.

“We liked using rails,” Pupillo said. “We did it for many years, but if they can’t guarantee me a time.”

Esposito said Railex has actually increased its delivery time and tracking capabilities since its inception 10 months ago.

“We’re hitting 12-20 hours consistently each week,” Esposito said of the train, which started with a five-day delivery guarantee. “We’re very focused on moving the produce unit train. We have our operations down now, so the customer has visibility of product in transit.”