Almost 7:30 am arriving at the entry gate on Essington Avenue into the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, the friendly guard bids good morning before offering passage and instructing me into the expansive lot, an immediate right before weaving around to the left, section letter A. The large scope of parking lot surrounding the seemingly miles long, rectangular metal exterior Distribution Center whose sections host equally large insignia labeled delivery trucks helps me to confirm my destination, TMK Produce, that is, T.M. Kovacevich, Phila., Inc. Distributors of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. I park in an allotted slot and before pulling the plug off my GPS that assured my prompt appointment arrival time and am already greeted by my affable, smiling host and Owner, Tom Kovacevich III.
Climbing the few steps to the landing, Tom opens the heavy entry door to his refrigerated heaven, all twenty acres of it. Wood flatbed Pallets to the right are loaded with crates of premium fruits along with some select vegetables moved about by workers operating the mechanized lifting machines coming in and going out.
Above: Tom Kovacevich, III, Center, Owner of TMK Produce along with Produce Order Coordinators, Jacob Mock, left, and Claude DePlato, right
Open for operation twenty-four hours a day, from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, Saturdays by appointment only, most of the action at the Distribution Center according to Tom really happens between 7 and 10 am as many among the Produce Entrepreneurs from around the region arrive to check out products and line the counter areas negotiating price. Others scatter about small tables or in the fashionable cafe sharing coffee between companions speaking in low voices as if discreetly discussing price fluctuations or some secret like the upcoming annual crop report.
We begin at the TMK storefront area meticulously maintained and greet the employees, all but one, busy in the closeted style area quietly negotiating price with an important customer. Tom goes off to grab a cup of his morning caffeine fix while I busy myself photographing the obvious reason the TMK specializes in premium fruits, along with their fresh produce varieties. The case filled boxes decoratively stored on red metal diagonal shelving bulge with selections of apples, the ‘Plum-Apricot’ called Red Velvet, bright pinkish red stalks of rhubarb, pomegranates, juicy watermelons, and full leaf, thin stemmed dark green spinach, just to name a mere few.
Heated cup of Joe in tow, Kovacevich points forward as the tour proceeds with a stroll taking in the full length of the Philadelphia Wholesale Market with varied designated Distributors on each side to include all of the other generations- old wholesale merchants who now collectively share one state of the art fully refrigerated facility. We chat with someone at most all of the businesses and either before or after providing the opportunity to photo crates and lined shelves of fresh, bright fruits and vegetables, one of which resembles the vegetable photo on the cover of Spiced Peach Blog. Tom suggests perhaps I can switch out the existing for the Philadelphia vegetable collection view and although the selection display is equally as nice I admit to not being so talented as to myself re-size and fit a new photo with the matching colored border into my Blog headline border slot.
Arriving in Philadelphia as a temporary juncture expanding the Kovacevich family Distributorship from New York some years back, Tom beams a grand smile happy that the experience kept him in a city he grew to love. Today’s Philadelphia TMK equivalent twenty-acre facility is the obvious source of pride and joy to Tom and my guess his second is touring others around inspiring enthusiasm in the magnificence of this efficient modern day creation. Carrying many of the same or similar varieties of premium fruit and vegetable products Distribution Center sales among the businesses mostly break down into a variety of specialty niche markets of focus between each such as Asian Produce Markets, Small Produce Markets, Various Ethnic Markets, Supermarkets, and Restaurants.
Given the broad selection of every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable at the Distribution Center from everywhere throughout the world caused me to contemplate on the currently popular subject topic called “Local.” “Local” is an interesting word and certainly of relevant importance to acknowledge because we all know that when we purchase local products at our markets we are able to maximize the nutritional values of the food. Nevertheless, I began recalling an experience I had last summer at a local Farmer’s Market that sells its own homegrown tomatoes, sweet corn, a broad variety of other vegetables and fruits, along with some other produce items not grown on their farm broadening the selection. One of the day’s customers eagerly filling her basket then inquired with yet an attitude of certainty to the farm market attendant ‘this pineapple is grown locally, right?’ Really, I almost knocked over the tomato bushel basket next to me in shock. Last time I noticed we live in the state of Pennsylvania and to the best of my knowledge, growing pineapples let’s just say is not our cash crop. I love pineapple, plain, grilled and in fruit salads and we are able to enjoy this specialty fruit much due through the coordinated provision and function of businesses as TMK and other merchants at the Philadelphia Distribution Center, and not so commonly farms in Pennsylvania. I made a mental note thinking the point a poignant one to share in this Post just keeping in mind in the balance of things, ultimately though today concluding with a lovely dessert, Pineapple Fruit Boats.
Still, I have always appreciated buying seasonally local products and decided to inquire Tom about “Local” in the fruit and vegetable distribution segment and I am happy I did because he was more than delighted to topple the apple bushel discussing the topic. Distributors are not only importers, though they distribute from among what is seasonally freshest and best quality around the world. “There is a misconception that we are not local” said Tom “but what many people do not understand is that we are.” “We (referring to all of the businesses at the Center) all have long time relationships with all of the local producing farms throughout the entire region and we have for years. When Jersey and Pennsylvania tomatoes are at their peak ripeness, for example, everyone has already long been in ongoing communication with these farms and, in many circumstances has already pre-bought whole fields of produce from many local farmers.” “The same goes for all of the fruit and vegetables that are produced in our entire region as products become seasonal; everything locally produced is locally provided.”
Tom also explains the many chains and levels of sale within the fruit and vegetable market and how the Distribution Center serves as a central source for all types of buyers, including those discount. Some local products that may be at peak freshness but do not possess the ‘look’ to command premium prices “We find buyers for these products too so that local farmers are not left with a lot of unsalable fruits and vegetables; we also purchase whole fields knowing that every fruit or vegetable may not be perfect.” Said Kovacevich.
One example that you may consider relative to your own purchasing is supposing you plan to put up batches of tomato sauce for the winter months and want fresh tomatoes, still, you may be willing to buy a larger batch at a lesser price for tomatoes that are not the pretty- perfect looking tomatoes as what you might use in a specific fresh dish. Segway markets as discount produce markets, grocery stores, even Farmers Markets seasonally provide this option also provided through Distribution Channels. Did you ever notice off to the side signs advertising a special marked price for the bushel, imperfect shaped tomatoes, how about apples, peaches, the options are wide and it seems a suitable way for keeping nutritionally valuable and fresh, flavorful foods from going to waste.
With approximately forty businesses comprising the Wholesale facility it is hard to imagine roots among these common businesses tracing back to Colonial Times to the original central fruit and vegetable hub on Dock Street, or the means of horse drawn carriages insuring produce delivery to the Distribution Center of the time. Today’s state of the art facility, now called the Philadelphia Wholesale Market produces a combined estimated sales of somewhere around a billion dollars.
In addition to the Philadelphia region, TMK Produce also provides products and deliveries to Virginia, New York, and Western Pennsylvania.
Beyond produce business entrepreneurs, representatives or chefs, today, the general public may shop at the Philadelphia Wholesale Market on Essington Avenue, the key is you need to buy in cases. The purchasing opportunity is worthwhile if you require large amounts of a particular product and the price is right particularly if you would like to share a seasonal premium quality product between a group of friends, lets say Mangoes when in season. Accessibility is one key feature that Produce Distributors regularly provide to us insuring availability of specialties at our local markets, including those treasured by various cultures from throughout the world, mangoes are a good example of this. Pointing to the pallet loaded up cases high Tom shared with me that this particular Distributor had just sold 1, 500 pallets at 3,000 pounds each just to an Indian market in the region. That makes for one heck of a lot of mangoes.
Once you enter the facility with no curves or entryways it is impossible to get lost walking up and back the straightaway with its bright natural light filled space and high ceilinged curvatures. Despite this, taking a tour of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market provides a deeper insight not only into the processes of local, but the import/export systems that includes the greatest variety of fruits and vegetables you have ever seen, premium that is. If you are interested in putting a small group together for a tour or purchasing a case or two of one your favorite in-season fruits or vegetables TMK Produce is ever eager to share the selection of market delights offered throughout the facility, with the added fun of observing the pure joy among those working in this fruits and vegetables distribution industry, all under one amazing state of the art clean, bright, and refrigerated, Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. You can read more about TMK Produce and the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market here.
Spiced Peach Blog extends sincere appreciation and Thanks to Tom Kovacevich for the invitation, hospitality, and opportunity of sharing with all of you a little insight into the Distribution of Fruits and Vegetables in Philadelphia, TMK Produce with Tom Kovacevich at The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.
- 1 pineapple, browned dried leaves on bottom removed, quartered lengthwise, with top leaves attached.
- strawberries, quartered
- banana,sliced immediately before serving
- cantaloupe, cut in half, seeded, and small balls made with a melon baller
- 1 tablespoons toasted, shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon toasted Macadamia nuts
- mint leaves for garnish, optional
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau or orange liqueur stirred through mixture before serving.
- Using a sharp knife cut pineapple in half carefully cutting right through the top leaves, then quarter, setting each onto a large cookie sheet. Carefully cut out most of the inside part of the pineapple, remove, then cut into small chunks. In a bowl with the pineapple chunks add in other fruits, except bananas if not serving immediately. Stir fruit combination together very gently taking care not to bruise or crush any of the smaller fruits. Cover pineapple boats with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving stir in sliced banana, the toasted coconut, and macadamia nuts then drizzle with the Cointreau. Top filled pineapple boat with a sprig of mint for garnish and serve.