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John Vena adding team members and expanding lines at PWPM

For almost 100 years, John Vena Inc., located at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, has held a prominent standing in the East and beyond.

Dan Vena, director of sales, and fourth-generation family member, said in the past year the company has grown its off-market business via the company’s own trucks and carriers.

“We also added three new sales people to our team,” said Vena. “They are handling off-market accounts and managing customers from all segments of the industry, from local to national.”

P1050238Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing for John Vena.Jared Donabedian is one of them. From the Boston area, his family background is in wholesale produce in both operations and sales.

Also new, Katelyn Repash has experience in wholesaling from the protein sector. Repash has a rich background in local agriculture and retailing.

Manuel Herrero, the third new team member, is a graduate of the St. Joe’s Food Marketing program. He is from Puerto Rico and is fluent in Spanish.

“Because we provide such a wide range of services, our sales team is the core of our operation,” noted Vena. “It’s tough to identify the right people for these roles, but with time and effort we’ve been able to build a great team.”

The company continues to actively recruit for new sales and business development talent.

John Vena Inc.’s namesake, John Vena, is president. He said the company also increased the size of its full-time packing staff.

“This enabled us to maximize efficiencies and streamline quality control on custom packed and private label programs with key clients,” he said. “Our ripening manager works with industry boards to expand our team’s skills in ripening commodities beyond bananas and avocados, particularly with mangos and plantains.

“There’s significant opportunity for growth here, especially as foodservice operators realize that by working with a mango ripener they can ensure a steady supply of ready-to-cut, properly ripe mangos, and avoid turning off consumers by cutting sour, under-ripe fruit,” he added.

Emily Kohlhas is the director of marketing. She said this spring the company kicked off a very exciting kiwano program with Enzed Exotics, New Zealand’s premier kiwano exporter.

“We are the first to import kiwano — also known as horned melon — directly to the East,” said Kohlhas. “Previously the fruit was imported into Los Angeles and trucked across the country, often on reefers at temperatures well below the recommended storage temperature for this unique fruit.”

John Vena worked in partnership with Enzed to establish a custom kiwano storage faciality that ensures optimum conditions and maximizes shelf life, which can be upwards of two months after arrival.

“There is a learning curve in handling kiwano,” continued Kohlhas. “But once retailers and foodservice operators get into the groove, we believe the fruit is well positioned to be the next dragon fruit or passionfruit. Kiwano is just plain fun to bring to parties and experiment with in the kitchen. And it’s so refreshing during the hot summer months.”

Organics are taking off at John Vena. It handles organic herbs, ginger, garlic, chili peppers and fresh sprouts. Kohlhas said the support of the company’s suppliers has been essential as the program has grown.

John Vena’s ethnic programs have seen significant growth in the last year, led by the Latino segment. It has strong movement with basics, like pineapples and limes, as well as specialty items including jicama, banana leaves and malanga.

“We continue with our Italian citrus program in 2018 and are one of only a few sources for Sicilian Tarocco blood oranges and Sorrento lemons,” said Kohlhas.

John Vena said the company has taken on several new units at the PWPM, increasing its total square footage by more than 30 percent, and increasing its storage capacity by 50 percent.

“We now occupy over 30,000 square feet within the market,” he said. “We are operating at capacity, and on the lookout for room to grow.”

John Vena continues to source produce from more than 100 growers and shippers around the world, including sources in the company’s backyard.

“We source from as close as South Jersey, and as far as New Zealand,” said John Vena. “Since finding our niche in specialties back in the 1980s, we’ve stayed true to our values and done our best to source product from the regions where the growing conditions are best, within the limits defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

John Vena’s centennial anniversary will be in 2019.

“We can’t wait to ring in our 100th year with a bang,” said Kohlhas.