Most Bay Area produce houses are holding up well despite the shaky economy, and the region’s largest terminal market in terms of merchant vendors, the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, has some big plans for the near future.
The facility was built in 1963 on city-owned land, but the market’s customer base and merchant base have evolved, said general manager Michael Janis.
Now, the market, with 28 merchant vendors, is set for a major renovation called the Retention and Expansion of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.
“We have been developing a comprehensive master plan to meet the needs of the industry and of current and future merchant vendors,” Janis said. “Our plans are for an expanded market to meet the demand for space and to complete anticipated upgrades.”
The market already is in “productive discussions” with the city for a new ground lease that will provide the foundation for the project.
Janis expects the expansion portion of the project, which could add about 90,000 square feet of warehouse space, to get under way in 2013.
Merchant vendors already are providing input, and Janis said he would like to receive feedback from parties outside of the market, as well.
Meanwhile, businesses on the market seem to be doing well.
“Our customer count is up quite a bit,” said Leo Rolandelli, president and general manager at Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc.
Rolandelli said he is not sure whether the new business is coming from other terminal markets or from new startups, especially independent, Hispanic-oriented stores that seem to be popping up throughout the area.
The company has not laid off any employees, he said.
“Recessions have not really hit the food industry as hard as they’ve hit other industries,” Rolandelli said.
There are no vacancies at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco, which currently has 26 tenants, said manager Primo Repetto.
“We have a lot of inquiries from people who would probably like to have space on the market, but we don’t have it,” he said.
Repetto said there may be a chance the facility will expand, but he said he could not discuss details about that possibility.
Meanwhile, business has settled down a bit, but not much, and the truck count is up, he said.
“All of our tenants seem to be happy and prosperous,” Repetto said.
At Franzella Produce Inc. on the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, president Philip Franzella said business has been down compared with 2008, but it’s not like the company is having financial difficulties.
“I’m able to pay my bills and keep my employees and not lay anybody off,” he said.
In fact, he said the company, which does business primarily with independent, ethnic establishments, added some new employees last year.
“We’ve been keeping pretty steady,” Franzella said.
Guy Davidoff, partner with Bob Scuoteguazza at Twin Peaks Distributing Inc. at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, said the company is growing as he wants it to — “at a slow pace” — but he regrets the supermarket chains no longer buy off the market.
“In the old days, chain stores would come to the market once or twice a week,” he said. “They would send a buyer to see the new products and different labels and see what’s going on. That’s never done anymore.”
At the Oakland Produce Market, sometimes known as the Franklin Street Market, space is not a problem, said Kurt Glazier, salesman at C&L Produce Inc.
“There’s plenty of room here,” he said.
Glazier wouldn’t describe business as “great” on the market, but he said, “It seems to be holding its own.”
The market serves a variety of customers.
“(The market) has a mainstream clientele, and we have a pretty good Asian clientele because we’re so close to Chinatown,” he said, “and there’s a pretty decent Hispanic clientele, too.”
C&L, Glazier said, is trying to “expand in different directions” while keeping its customers satisfied.
The company offers a variety of mainstream items as well as some specialty products and serves mostly restaurants and institutional accounts, he said.