FOREST PARK, GA — After almost a half-century in the business, Howard Mundt of Harvest Brokerage Inc. on the Atlanta Farmers Market is thinking about hanging it up. Then again, he has been thinking about that for years now.
“Every year’s different —that’s what makes it interesting,” Mr. Mundt said. “I was just talking to a shipper today on the soft fruit deal and it’s good to see that this year they will make money. I was talking to some grape shippers and they said the same thing. Everybody’s happy. And we’re happy because they’re going to be around for us to sell for next year.”
Mr. Mundt and partners Francine and Charles Johnson have been taking care of customers from their spot on the Atlanta Market for years. The trio shares almost a century of combined experience.
“We’re going good — that says we’ve got a good crew,” Mr. Mundt said. “I’ve been in it 45 years, Fran grew up in the business in Salinas, CA, Charlie’s been in it since he was 16. We have a lot of experience and we deal with some of the best suppliers and shippers there are because over the years we’ve been able to weed out the marginal ones and we’re able to broker for the good ones. And we work strictly as a broker, we don’t take title and make 50 cents or a dollar — we take our quarter. We tell our people they can come and see our books any time they want to. It’s good transparency. We’re not out to gouge anybody or put anybody out of business, we just want to keep going along. A lot of volume hides a lot of cents and everybody can see it.”
The most important factor in the produce equation is the grower, Mr. Mundt said. That may seem obvious, but given the current industry standards, it is anything but.
“Returns to growers have to improve and retailers may need to give a little back,” Mr. Mundt said. “I went into two competing grocers here in Atlanta, at one grapes were $1.19 and the shelves were empty. Across the street they were $1.99 and the shelves were full, which just goes to show you shoppers still know value.”
Meanwhile, “Banks need to help too — you’ve got growers out there, banks used to carry these people over if they had a bad season and they’d finance them again and carry them over to the next year until they had a good season like they’re having right now. And you don’t have that any more. That’s some of our troubles,” Mr. Mundt said.
“At the same time you have to understand the banks should not be taking our money and going to Europe and every place else with it — the bank is for the community and it should be putting that money back into the community, not in far-fledged places where we can lose it in a hurry,” he added. “We have to believe in our own people and put the money back into our own people. Who’s a better investment than the growers? It’s a market-driven business and often times you have to ride the crest and go with it best you can and make money when the markets are hot. We’re the only industry that has real entrepreneurs — other industries are pretty well settled in, no one’s creating anything there.”