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Getting in on produce

Maines Paper & Food Service, a mega $3 billion broadliner, set out several years ago to eliminate the competitive disadvantages companies its size often have in the produce category. While it had long offered a full produce line to its customers, which include regional independents as well as national chains, local produce specialists had the upper hand when it came to selection, expertise and service. Maines decided to take an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach and created Produce Express, a company-within-a-company that since 2005 has grown into a $50 million entity.

Housed at Maines’ headquarters warehouse in Conklin, Produce Express now has more than 100 of its own employees, including buyers, drivers, warehouse and transportation management personnel, and customer service reps. A dedicated refrigerated fleet delivers fresh produce to customers in a 150-mile radius six days a week. Operators in the immediate local area can take morning and afternoon deliveries. “It’s all built around going to market as a strong local produce specialist,” says Peter Gannis, produce sales manager.

Produce Express has also built a thriving local sourcing program, establishing partnerships with farms throughout New York. Beginning with strawberries in June and running through the fall produce season, products ordered and picked the same day are backhauled by the distributor’s drivers after their morning deliveries are made. They’re received back at Conklin headquarters and loaded the same night for next-day delivery. “It’s grown tremendously,” Gannis says. “The farms that we currently partner with are growing more acres for us every year and we’re working to add more farms that can meet our production and food safety standards.”

Organics and specialty items are both stocked and available special order with quick turn-around times.

A member of the Salinas, California-based produce buying cooperative Markon, Maines Produce Express offers weekly crop updates, specialty and category trend reports, and chef-developed recipes. Two full-time specialists work with customers to help manage their produce needs and control costs. “We try to make sure that customers don’t have any surprises when it comes to produce supply and pricing. And we help them make substitutions when costs on key items go up,” Gannis says. 

Maines Paper & Food Service
Conklin, NY
2008 sales: $2.7 billion
ID Top 50 rank: 6
Web site: www.maines.net

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