“We launched a new tropical division this year that has been a very exciting and educational experience,” said Roni Okun of Morris Okun Inc., a full-service produce company located on the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Market in the Bronx, NY. “We are handling items that appeal to the ethnic trade, and we are sourcing from around the world.”
Ms. Okun added that for her personally, growing up in New York on Jewish-American food, the new tropical line is particularly interesting.
“By acquiring Row D, Units 429 to 433, on the HuntsPoint Terminal Market, we were able to become involved with a new customer base,” she said. “These are fine ethnic people, and we are enjoying a delightful relationship with these new customers.”
During the past six to eight months, the company’s tropical line has evolved to include an extensive line of all root items, including yucca and boniato, yellow and white yams, malanga and a wide range of herbs, such as cilantro and ajicito peppers.
Thomas Cignarella, president of Morris Okun, said that the line includes calabaza and numerous root vegetables such as yampi and apio.
“We are also handling Thai guava, regular guava, green-skinned avocados, mangos, plantains and papaya,” said Mr. Cignarella. “Our tropical line includes 58 items and growing. We are sourcing from Thailand, and Central, South and North America.
“The tropical line was a natural progression for Morris Okun,” he continued. “The newer migrants to the United States tend to be more orientated toward cooking at home, so introducing this line was only a matter of letting people know that we offer it.”
Mr. Cignarella noted that the company hired a seasoned professional, Marvin Santana, as a buyer for the new tropical line last August. Mr. Santana told The Produce News that he comes from a background in the tropical produce category.
“I’ve been involved in tropicals for about eight years,” said Mr. Santana. “My Hispanic heritage is a big help, and I sort of grew up in the business because my dad was a floor manager in charge of tropicals. I often came to work with him when I wasn’t in school.”
Morris Okun is constantly improving its facility with new refrigeration, new equipment and even a new Internet technology department, headed by Mark Tannhauser.
The company was established in 1926, and was among the first companies that took space in Hunts Point when it opened in 1967. Over the years it expanded to its current 20 units, becoming known as a pillar at the terminal for its consistent high-quality products and exemplary customer service. Louis Getzelman serves as vice president.
Ms. Okun said the company will continue to provide its full line of premium quality fruits and vegetables from the new space, and will service the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metropolitan areas as it has in the past.
The economic climate of the past couple of years has directed consumers strongly back to basic staple items like tomatoes, potatoes and onions, but Ms. Okun said as things start to improve, people are looking to enjoy more interesting and exciting items like tropical produce in their homes as well as in the eateries they patronize.
Morris Okun Inc. is one of the older tomato repackers in the industry. Mr. Cignarella said it has been a tough season for the tomato market because of the heavy volumes coming from Florida and Mexico at the same time, which drove prices low.
Ms. Okun said that the firm will continue to utilize its experience to pack high-quality produce, including tomatoes, potatoes and onions, under the “Okun” label.
“Following this … winter, we look forward to a fruitful spring and summer deal,” she said. “With the mild winter and spring, there may be a glut on the market at some point, but who knows what the man above has in store for the rest of the season. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have a heart filled with positive thinking. The produce industry is like none other, and surprises occur daily.”