Matthew Falletta, a 29-year-old sales representative at S. Katzman Produce Inc. at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Market, told The Produce News that sales come naturally to him because of his multi-generational background in the industry.
“My grandfather, Vincent Falletta, and my dad, Frank Falletta, first came to the Hunts Point market as wholesalers,” said Mr. Falletta. “My great-grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily, Italy, and he too was in produce. My dad and grandfather founded V&F Produce, which was here from the 1960s until the mid-1990s, when my grandfather retired. Dad gotinto receiving in a partnership with American Banana. That company eventually closed, and he then worked with Lee Loi Industries, also here on the market.”
Frank Falletta had always specialized in fruits, including bananas. When he joined Lee Loi the company did not handle fruits, so he brought his shippers to the company. Ultimately, he helped other companies by introducing them to new items.
“Since I was a toddler, I’d get on the truck with my dad, and once I started school I would join him on weekends and during the summer,” said Mr. Falletta. “The market was a very exciting and intriguing place to me — like a city inside of a city. There we would mingle with people from China, Japan and other places that were a mystery to me when I was young.”
Frank Falletta transitioned to direct receiving in a partnership in PJ Produce around 2000. His partner died a few years later, and since then Frank Falletta retired.
“This mix of experiences my dad had meant that I had them too,” said Mr. Falletta. “After finishing school, I went to work with PepsiCo, but after a while I left them and went to work with another firm here at Hunts Point, which has since closed. I’ve been with S. Katzman for about a year-and-a-half. My family history and my experience in produce drew me back.”
During his high school years, Mr. Falletta would work in sales for his dad, which he also did for the company he worked at prior to joining S. Katzman.
He was previously married, but is now divorced, and he has an 8-year-old daughter, Giovanna Maria Falletta.
“I am really enjoying myself,” he said. “I play in two softball leagues. The Cyprus team is in the fast-pitch league, which is a little more competitive than soft-pitch. Many of the guys on our team are S. Katzman customers, like the owner of Cepin Produce in Manhattan. There is a strong mix of ethnicities on the team, which makes it a lot of fun. This is a big league, and we play in all of New York City’s boroughs. Last year we won the league championship.”
He also plays on the Luna team, which is in the soft-pitch league. This team is sponsored by another of S. Katzman’s customers, Luna Grocery, which has two stores in New York City. “The owners buy from Hunts Point companies, and a bunch of my fellow employees at S. Katzman play on the team,” he said.
“Some of the players on these teams are ex-pro level players,” said Mr. Falletta. “That really puts the pressure on the rest of us and makes it a lot of fun.”
Not that he has a lot of it with so much going on in his life, but in what spare time he does have he also likes to play golf.
“I started playing when I was a kid,” he said. “I grew up in Brooklyn near Marine Park, which has a golf course. I played in high school, and today I usually play in Connecticut where my family now lives.”
He also likes to stay in shape, so he works out at Star Fitness in the Bronx.
“I try to go three to four times a week,” he said. “And I try to eat right. Being in the produce business helps people to understand the value of fresh, nutritious food.”
Mr. Falletta feels that the biggest change he’s seen in the produce industry since he was a young child is the evolution to the strong ethnic mix of items now available.
“There are many more Hispanic and Asian produce items than we had when I was young,” he said. “And there are more brokers and fewer wholesalers today. The market is shrinking in that respect. A lot of the mom-and-pop stores have closed because of the competition, and now there are big box stores that are changing the way people shop. I see business continuing to evolve this way in the future.”
But he also sees more people starting up their own small businesses, which he thinks is good.
“The city issues permits to people who open these small sidewalk carts and greenmarket stands offering a few produce items,” he said. “That’s really hard work, and I give them a lot of credit. And new greenmarkets are opening all over the city.
“But the other major change I see today is the number of women who are starting their own small produce businesses,” he continued. “Today many of the carts and stands are owned by women.”
He feels there is not enough New York-grown produce available today because most of it goes to greenmarkets.
“We don’t see it here on the terminal market,” he said. “Someone should open a company on the market to represent New York producers.”
There is not as much walking traffic at the market today as compared to a decade ago, which is another factor that has changed with time.
“People used to go to different companies to buy specific items,” he said. “But today everyone carries everything. There are several major companies on the market now, and that makes it challenging for the smaller companies.”
His personal goal is to someday have a brokerage house for large corporations, as he believes that is where the produce industry is headed.
“I’d like to sell not just walk-up trade, but also direct,” he said. “S. Katzman partners with Top Katz, a brokerage house, which is a good example. That’s ultimately my direction.”