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This is us: The secret to M. Levin’s success

M. Levin & Co., a fourth-generation wholesaler based in Philadelphia, is the oldest same-family business in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, first setting up shop in 1906.

“What makes us unique is ‘us” and we attribute our success to our generations of family values,” said Mark Levin, company president. “We were taught that if you work hard enough and care about the job you do everything else should fall into place. What we value most is our relationships with both our customers and suppliers. We have developed long-standing relationships with both because we put the needs of our customers and suppliers first because without them there would be no us.”

The company’s core business is bananas, ripening close to 30,000 boxes each week, although it is also well known for carrying an extensive line of tropicals and other fresh fruits and vegetables from around the globe.

IMG 7074-3Olivia Miller, fifth generation of M. Levin & Co.“We are thankful for the business we have and are looking to continue to grow in the future,” Levin said. “Business in 2018 overall was steady, and we project that 2019 based off of the first quarter business is on track to be a very good year. Weather and growing conditions are all a factor in the produce business, but barring any unforeseen circumstances this should be a better year for us and the produce industry in general.”

The lessons that the family has been taught through the years is that there are no “special sauces or secrets” to success. It’s all about hard work.

“The hours are long and arduous and we are up at terrible hours and work in and out of refrigerators half the night and half the day,” Levin said. “My father used to say if between all the family here we cover 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, we were bound to do something right. Well to his credit, he was correct. But besides family we have many valued employees and a sales force that cares as much about our business as we do.”

M. Levin & Co.’s growth has a great deal to do with that staff as most of the sales team has been with the company 20 years or more.

“Our banana, pineapple and melon business would be nowhere without the great effort of Joe Armata,” Levin said. “My potato, onion, apple, avocado and citrus business continued to grow with the hard work of Jeff Moore. Our grape, stone fruit and watermelon business success is due to the hard work of Pete Gabriele. Our volume of both local and western vegetables has increased due to the  hard work of Ryan Miller. And last, but not least is Brian Kreibel, who heads our Tropical Division who without his expertise our growth would not be possible.”

And the fifth generation of the family is already doing her part as baby Olivia started coming into the market at just three months old, and she’s already busy inspecting (and eating) the bananas on a daily basis.

The biggest challenge the company faces is that it is not only competing with other terminal operators, which are only a cinder block wall away, but with suppliers as well.

“Many of the large importers and growers we find would like to cut us (the middle man) out of the equation and go direct to our customers,” Levin said. “This can be a two-edged sword; the question is how can they continue to supply my customers and expect to sell me as well. This is a very thin line which if not careful could be detrimental to both businesses. The best way to face this challenge is to be proactive.”

In 2019, the company will look to expand, as it does every year.

“We always strive for growth and hope that 2019 and the years to follow will be more successful than the years prior,” Levin said. “Transportation has become a large part of our growth initiative. Bringing new customers to this market has always been a challenge, but with the extended efforts of Tracie Levin to work on new business development, we as a 113-year-old company keep on growing and for this we are thankful.”