In Atlanta — considered the leading Southeastern city and a hub for delivery of all consumer items — produce brokering remains a thriving business.

While some other produce markets have one broker, if that, the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Forest Park, Ga., has three active produce brokerage firms. In addition, there are other brokers in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area.

During these days of increased retail direct produce buying, one might think produce brokerage would decline and that the market would see far fewer practitioners of the trade.

Not so, say brokers, who continue to find new ways to thrive and succeed in today’s increasingly competitive produce business.

“Atlanta’s a big market,” said Hubert Nall III, president of Hubert N. Nall Co. Inc., Forest Park. “There are a lot more people here. We have a lot of concentration of produce here, more so than you do in most other areas.”

Nall, who in January 2008 succeeded his late father at the helm of the brokerage firm founded in 1925, said there aren’t many strictly produce brokers remaining in the business anyway. Most have become buying-brokers, where the broker takes title to the produce he or she sells.

“Things are more dependent on the delivered cost,” he said. “You can find product at the right price, but if a truck isn’t at the right price, you won’t get the order. It’s the whole package. With the freight being so variable now, it can vary 50-75 cents to a dollar per container sometimes depending on the equipment you get and the day you get it. Whatever it is, it has to be the right price. The customers’ delivered cost has to be competitive.”

Nall’s customers are supermarkets, foodservice purveyors and other wholesalers mostly in the lower part of the Southeast, including North Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

David Rose, president of broker Merrin-Cravens Co., Atlanta, said direct buying by retail chains hasn’t been a big threat in the Atlanta area.

Because the market didn’t have many local chains to deal with beginning 30 years ago, and the area which has many national retail chains has long had direct buying, the region had been indoctrinated into that way of buying and sellers on the produce terminal weren’t as affected by the change as in other markets, Rose said.

“You just have to find a niche, which has always been the key,” Rose said. “The brokerage has changed over the years. It’s become more important to find that niche where you can service the shipper and the receiver.”

Merrin-Cravens brokers produce primarily for customers in the Atlanta area.

“There’s enough produce business in the Atlanta area to keep us all busy,” he said.

Howard Mundt, president of Harvest Brokerage, Atlanta, said brokers won’t lose their importance in the business.

“There’s always a place for brokers,” he said. “There has always been direct buying, which has always taken place. This hasn’t changed over the years. Some people find it an advantage to use a broker. They feel brokers may do a better job.”

Mundt said brokers such as those in Harvest Brokerage can often source product better than individual buying direct.

Mundt has sold produce in Atlanta since 1979.

Harvest sells produce to foodservice, retail and wholesale clients throughout the Southeast from Birmingham, Ala., to Greenville, S.C., and south to Jacksonville, Fla.