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Zambito says weather has resulted in an unusual overall produce season

Chuck Zambito, owner of Zambito Produce Sales in West Deptford, NJ, told The Produce News that in mid-April the temperatures in the Northeast took yet another plunge.

“It has been an amazingly brutal winter,” Zambito said on April 15. “It dropped to 28 degrees here last night. The wind was howling and we were getting dusted with more snow. A winter this cold takes a toll on produce movements and sales, and I know that everyone is looking forward to spring and warmer temperatures.”

Zambito handles potatoes, California Navel oranges and onions. It also does big business on mixed vegetables. The company, in business since the mid-1970s, services primarily foodservice operators and wholesalers. Its primary foodservice customers are distributors who in turn service casinos. It also sells to companies on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, and it has customers from as far south as Maryland, north into New England and in the Midwest.

Zambito said that it’s not just the rough Northeast weather that has taken a toll on produce this year. The company’s Navel orange program from California wrapped up almost two months earlier than normal.

“Freezes and winds have taken a heavy toll on the California citrus industry,” he said. “We also handle potatoes and onions from the Bakersfield area of California. Yukon Gold potatoes are scheduled to start on May 5, and red potatoes from the region are lining up to start at the end of that week.”

Onions also took a hard hit this year. Zambito said that when the Mexican supplies started coming into the U.S., the market dropped strongly.

“But then both Texas and Mexico faced some weather issues, so we’re thinking that the market may firm up a bit,” he noted.

“We’re already seeing New Jersey growers forcing some leafy products out,” Zambito continued. “Texas and Mexico are finished with their basic crops now and so supplies are weak and prices are very high. One shipper I work with in Texas sent me his sell sheet today showing cabbage, root parsley, carrots and limes are running over $100 a box.”

Zambito has been involved with the New Jersey Agriculture Society for about 10 years. He recently rotated from the board of trustees, but remains an active member.

“The society was the forerunner of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture,” he explained. “And we work closely with the department still today. We support programs such as Farmers Against Hunger, New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program and Learning Through Gardening, which supports teachers’ use of gardening and agriculture in classrooms.”

He is also serving on the committee for his Cornell University 50-year class reunion, which is taking place in June. Zambito graduated from Cornell with a degree from what is now called the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.

Zambito’s wife, Barbara (Bobbie), also helps out in the business. The couple can’t stop talking about the fun they have with their grandchildren today. They include six-year-old Charlie Everlof, seven-year-old Matt Mancini, three-year-old Cecilia (Ceci) Zambito and two-and-one-half-year-old Cara Mancini. All four have expressed a desire to serve on the company’s board of directors as, Zambito said, what they refer to as “equal opportunity employers.”

“Charlie is already the self-proclaimed vice president of sales and Matt is the president of the company,” Zambito joked. “They grow up fast, and every moment with them is precious.” Now the girls want positions of honor. Based on their personalities we think that Cara will likely be the public relations director and Ceci will be the corporate attorney.”

Zambito also has a pocket-full of what he calls “Charlie-isms” that he enjoys sharing.

“Charlie’s in kindergarten now,” he shared. “One day last week he came home from school at noon and my daughter asked him what he wanted for lunch. He responded, ‘Can you tell me the specials?’“