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St. Louis Produce Market turns 60 years old in 2013

The St. Louis Produce Market, known lovingly as Produce Row, is gearing up for quite a celebration. “We are very excited about celebrating our 60th anniversary on Produce Row, Market Manager Pat Kelley told The Produce News on March 15. “We are proud to serve our customers and community the freshest produce in St. Louis.”

The downtown market sits on 38 acres and occupies a footprint of 250,000 square feet in two main buildings. StLouisMktPat Kelley, market manager for the St. Louis Produce Market, displays a photograph of the market and its placement within the St. Louis metropolitan area. (Photo courtesy of Marsha Wooten)Mr. Kelley said this is the original configuration of the market. “It was pretty novel back in 1953,” he commented. Each of these buildings is 1,235 feet long and 114 feet wide. Both are two stories high and contain 98 units with 2,000 square feet of floor space within each unit.

Today, 20 businesses are co-located at the roofed facility. “The United States Department of Agriculture maintains an office on the row for statistical data collection and inspection services for the incoming produce,” the market’s website states. “National produce brokerage companies, foodservice operators, produce wholesalers, specialty wholesale produce operators, food processors, produce packaging operations and cold storage operators are all present in the market.“

The St. Louis Produce Market services an area of 350 miles around St. Louis. Receivers include area residents, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, schools, nursing homes, convenience stores, farmers markets and roadside stands. Mr. Kelly said 1,200 buyers come to the market each month.

“With the continued growth of our business, some of our tenants have expressed interest in the expansions of their current businesses,” he added.

The market has evolved with the times. “The dynamics have changed over the years due to refrigeration and the cold chain,” Mr. Kelley noted. “In the past five years, several of our tenants have gone and created fresh-cut and prepackaging divisions.”

Equally important are food-safety considerations, Mr. Kelley noted.

 “Food safety, as we all know, has become a major item, and we have made great strides over the past few years by adding and enforcing the cold chain and fencing the property, and of course have an onsite USDA office,” Mr. Kelley said.

When the market first emerged, St. Louis was a regional railroad hub. The market itself is serviced by 14,000 tractor-trailers and rail cars 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Commodities arrive from 49 states and more than 76 foreign countries. Today, the lion’s share of the product moved from Produce Row is transported by truck.

Mr. Kelley calculated 18,000 trucks move through the market annually.