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Peter Condakes Co.’s food-safety, traceability initiatives paying off with new customers

Peter Condakes Co. Inc. has locations at both the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA, and at the Boston Market Terminal in Everett, MA.

Peter John Condakes, president of the company, told The Produce News that the two terminal markets are just “a stone’s throw” apart.

“But when tossed, that stone crosses over the town borders and county lines,” said Condakes.

The 110-plus-year-old company continues to carry all of the major conventional commodities except potatoes, onions and watermelons.

Peter-John-CondakesPeter John Condakes, president of Peter Condakes Co. Inc., at the New England Produce Center.“We specialize in all berry varieties, western fruits, stone fruits and Florida citrus,” said Condakes. “Commodity items like peppers and squashes are big programs for us. And our tomato business is so large that we have a separate division dedicated specifically to it. We also have a strong tropical division.”

Condakes supports what works best for the industry, noting that while the annual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit is still important, Americans are now a minority at the annual event.

Peter Condakes Co.’s primary customers are wholesalers and foodservice operators, but it has a nice share of smaller chain retailers. Major chains use the company’s products primarily for fill-ins.

Condakes noted that the recession has taken its toll at the restaurant level in New England, as it has elsewhere. He said there is definitely discretionary spending going on.

“While we don’t service the quick-serve restaurants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s — our products do end up at these restaurants through the wholesalers we service,” he said. “However, we have picked up an account because of our food safety and traceability initiatives in the value end of the casual dining segments, so we are witnessing how these programs are important to customers of all levels.”

Some chain restaurants, he noted, are now opening their own warehouses and buying direct in an effort to save money by eliminating the middlemen.

“It takes time to get into the proper cycle to be able to bid to any of the chain restaurants, and some are looking for repacked tomatoes and food safety requirements,” Condakes explained. “And that’s what we’re all about. Even some value chains are stepping up to the plate and paying a bit more in order to buy products that are fully certified.”

He said there is a lot more forward distribution of product by f.o.b. shippers today. Companies, for example, are shipping out of Mexico to their warehouses in New Jersey or Philadelphia. When major chainstores need product, they just source if from one of the warehouses, as opposed to buying it from terminal market companies.

“Supermarkets think they’re buying f.o.b., but they’re essentially doing what companies like mine have been doing for many years,” noted Condakes.

“Business,” he continued, “is very inconsistent. People buy heavy at the end of the week to get them through the weekend, then they buy again on Monday to replenish. It’s pretty quiet during the week, and at the end of the week the frenzy starts again. Things seem to break open in June and July, when people are cooking and eating out for the summer holidays.”

Throughout the company’s history, it has managed to keep a solid customer base.

Peter Condakes Co. is certified by the American Institute of Baking, and it is progressing on its Produce Traceability Initiative.

“You have to change as the industry changes, and our company is proof that changing with the times is a successful method,” said Condakes.

Condakes’ brother, Stephen, is the vice president of the company and he oversees its tropical division. Other co-owners are cousins, Peter Leo Condakes, vice president in charge of all southern vegetables, and Suzanne Condakes Polymeros, vice president of all fruits and western vegetables.

Condakes said that the Hispanic population in New England is strong and growing.

“As is the Asian population,” he added. “The focus of demand from these groups is on tropical and specialty items that aren’t mainstream, which is what we one of the areas in which we specialize.”