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Community-Suffolk: Spikes and dips in several commodities recently

Tommy Piazza, clerk of corporation for Community-Suffolk Inc., located at the Boston Market Terminal in Everett, MA, told The Produce News that for the entire last year the potato market was in low single digits.

“At the end of the season the remaining stored potatoes melted down, so there was a tremendous spike in the end,” he said. “When the market is overloaded, it’s not good for growers, receivers, packers, customers or anyone else.

“This year the potato market got off on a sort of wishy-washy note, so we’re hoping to get back to making a profit for growers this season,” he added.

steven-piazzaSteven Piazza, president of Community-Suffolk Inc., at the Boston Market Terminal.Piazza said that potato yields are down this year, and word that some growers have cut back on acreage is hopefully true. This will help everyone to have a better marketing season this year.

Jackie Piazza, one of Tommy’s brothers, is the director of citrus for Community-Suffolk. His division is located in the adjacent New England Produce Center facility. On Oct. 10, he said that lemon prices have been the highest ever in history during the previous month.

“Every growing area in the world, including the U.S., had growing problems, so no one could get lemons,” said Piazza. “Prices have been sky-high for the past month. They went from a normal of $20 to $30 a case, up to $60 and even higher. We saw a lot of new faces on our dock because people were scratching every possible surface for supplies.”

By early October, however, there were more lemons than anyone could use, so prices dropped radically and quickly.

A third brother, Steve Piazza, is the president of Community-Suffolk. A cousin of the three brothers, David Piazza, is the vice president and he oversees iceberg lettuce and onion sales.

The company is a full-line hardware vegetable house. Its line includes year-round supplies of celery, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, onions, full line of citrus items including oranges, limes, lemons, radishes, garlic, apples, iceberg lettuce, salad savoy and leaf vegetables. The company’s citrus division is based on a developed partnership with Sunkist, and it also labels oranges under its “MF” brand.

Steven Piazza said that the company handles any item that presents value to its customer base, and that criterion includes exceptional quality and/or price.

“Retail stores want items that enable them to compete, but at the same time everyone is looking for value,” he said. “We handle Canadian carrots, as opposed to California carrots, for example. The Canadian carrots are good quality and they’re the right price. This is where we can create extra value for our customers. Also, the proximity of Canada’s supply helps to add to our logistical efficiencies.”

Piazza said that business has increased somewhat as the economy crawls back to a better position, but that the mindset of people during the most difficult time of recession is likely something they’ll carry forward with them on a permanent basis.

“Instead of paying $3.99 for asparagus, the consumer may opt to buy carrots,” he said. “And instead of baby carrots, they will purchase conventional carrots. Our line of high-quality commodity items is what we have stuck with, and that helped us get through the recession unscathed.”

Community-Suffolk is also trying to stay ahead of the environmental curve on its own in every possible way.

“Sustainability initiatives are left pretty much to individuals today,” Piazza continued. “But that’s going to change in the future. Eventually monitoring for environmental abuses by outside agencies will be a part of daily life. Besides preparing for what’s coming, it is just a practical and ethical decision to do things in ways that benefit the environment and reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills.”

The company is a strong supporter of local growers. Piazza said that when his grandfather started the company over 75 years ago, he washed and wrapped New York state-grown celery.

“He was the first one in the country to wrap celery,” said Piazza. “We still support local growers who produce from celery to pumpkins — when it’s available depending on the season.

Community-Suffolk has also been a longtime supporter of the Boston Food Bank.

“If the organization needs a dock, we’ll do what we can to help them out,” said   Piazza. “And we donate product to them whenever we can. It’s all a part of giving back wherever and whenever possible.”

Besides the Boston Food Bank, Community-Suffolk supports the Little Sisters of the Poor in Boston, and the Italian Home for Children, also in Boston.

“We help as many organizations as possible,” said Piazza. “But these three are dearest to our hearts.”