The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on March 8 with Jay Martini, account manager with the Chicago office of RPE Inc., headquartered in Bancroft, Wis. You can read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

1:27 p.m. Tom Karst: Jay, thanks for taking time for a chat today. First of all, we know you are closely following the tomato market. What is a typical week like for you when the market is so dynamic?

Q&A | Jay Martini, RPE


1:30 p.m. Jay Martini: Oh, fun and games to be sure. I start out by monitoring the Chicago terminal market prices and then when the Florida guys get in their offices, I check out the f.o.b.s there. After that I check with Mexico — doing the same — and then I try to put loads together. And you also get a sense of the feel ... strong, weak, or just plain scary like right now.

1:32 p.m. Tom: Finding the market level can be hard work — or does the market find you? The process of setting prices is fascinating and you are very close to it — is it just a matter of talking to people or do you slice and dice statistics?

1:35 p.m. Jay: It would be easy if it were only statistics. Because tomatoes are such a unique, fluid commodity, I’ve always felt that psychology plays a huge part, almost more than sheer supply and demand. For instance, the publicity last week about the tomato shortage at fast-food points — in my opinion that stuck in the public’s mind — at the precise time that Mexico got just a little more supply, thus the market this morning is very unsettled instead of very strong.

1:37 p.m. Tom: What is your background in the industry? What doors were first opened for you to get into the business?

1:41 p.m. Jay: Hah. They weren’t so much doors as the fact that I was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant, not making much money, and my dad (John Martini) asked me to come work with him, I think for $250 a week. In 1980 that was big money for a 23-year-old. And although before I had shunned anything to do with the early hours, which I hated, I knew that Dad was very good at what he did, he had his own business, and he was honorable. Being engaged at the time also made me grow up. So here we are, 30 years down the road!

1:42 p.m. Tom: What are some lessons your father taught you about the business? Any favorite sayings of his that still come to mind?

1:47 p.m. Jay: Just phrases about people. A person talking out of both sides of his mouth was a bad actor. The main thing he told me is that you just can’t lie. You can’t do it. It’ll come back to you and bite you in the butt.

1:56 p.m. Tom: Not to put you on the spot, but what is one or two things you project for the tomato market for the next 30 days or so? How is that crystal ball working?

2:01 p.m. Jay: That’s another thing my dad would say: “My crystal ball is broken — this is a recording.” I think the market over the next month will lurch around in fits and starts price-wise. It’ll come down a bit, then buyers may realize that the slide was a little premature, they’ll jump in to buy, and it will spike again. But ... the fact remains that a $31.95-33.95 f.o.b. market for mature-greens is unsustainable for a long period of time. At some point, something’s got to give — movement, fear, risk aversion all play big parts in it.