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Quality and principles are key at Community-Suffolk

Quality. Service. Price. Consistency. Credibility.

Those are just five of the reasons Community-Suffolk, Inc. has been a leader in the New England produce scene for close to eight decades.

“We are approachable and principled in the way that we do business and in all of our dealings,” Tommy Piazza, partner and head of potato procurement and sales at Community-Suffolk, Inc., based in Everett, MA, told The Produce News.

Community-Suffolk-CitrusCommunity-Suffolk’s Citrus Division operates out of the New England Produce Center.Community was founded by Larry Piazza, Sr., Tommy’s grandfather, in the early part of the 20th century as a produce pushcart operating out of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, which at that time was the city’s leading produce and meat wholesale market. Suffolk was added to its name when it acquired a spinach farm in Suffolk County, MA. The firm moved to the suburbs with the rest of the industry in 1968 when the New England Produce Center was built. Community-Suffolk now services all of New England, New York and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

Today, Community-Suffolk handles a solid 25 to 30 different commodities, including potatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli, onions, lettuce and associated greens, spinach, artichokes, squash, peppers and rutabagas, along with a citrus division dealing with oranges, lemons, limes, clementines, pummelos and murcotts, along with apples and pears. Vegetables are handled out of the Boston Terminal Market in Everett, while the citrus division operates out of the neighboring New England Produce Center in Chelsea.

“Within each commodity there is a full array of sizes, packs, colors and origins, so we cover all the bases,” Piazza said. Citing potatoes as an example, he noted, “At any one time I’ll have up to 70 to 100 different offerings, even though potatoes is one commodity. There are red, yellow, Russet, sweet potato, Yukon Gold, etc.”

Because there are several re-packers in the Boston area, Community-Suffolk largely sells its potatoes in bulk to its institutional and retail customers. “That’s been our niche as opposed to the re-packing,” Piazza said.

Many of those potatoes are locally grown.

“Locally grown is very big for us,” Piazza said. “There are a lot of potatoes grown in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island too. We try to carry lots of local items aside from potatoes. It seems being able to put ‘locally sourced’ on the menu is appreciated by patrons and a lot of restaurants aspire to do that — so we make it happen,” he said.

“In season, we will work with different vegetables that we might not usually handle on a regular basis. In the height of the corn season we’ll be handling local corn, along with the local potatoes. Our customers dig that because their customers and their cooks appreciate it,” Piazza said.

Community-Suffolk also sets itself apart through its private label offerings. The firm is noted for its proprietary Rosebud Brand “Heart of the Harvest,” which has been in use for decades. More recently, its citrus division has introduced the MF (Mighty Fine) label. “We are appreciative to the major growers that have helped us foster these labels locally,” Piazza said.

The big news in the citrus division is that Piazza’s niece has joined the firm, marking the start of the fourth generation of Piazzas at Community-Suffolk’s helm. “My brother Jackie’s daughter Gianna has stepped in to assist and she has taken over the lime deal by herself,” he said. “She is doing the buying and selling — and she’s got the fire in the belly. In a produce market like this, you have to have kind of a thick skin, and be assertive and approachable. I heard an expression that I have always loved about this business —you need a short emotional memory. Gianna is very vivacious and interested, which is a good combination.”

To cater to New England’s changing ethnic makeup, in recent years Community-Suffolk has broadened its product mix. Bok choy, Napa and daikon are offered through the celery and broccoli division.

Community-Suffolk has also become a larger factor in handling bumper crops and surpluses.

“We’ve always done it to a point, but now there seems to be more need for it,” Piazza said. “With so much product being delivered direct to chain stores, there’s always going to be a rejection of one kind or another. Often it is either a greenhouse item that is either domestic or from Canada. That happens on a fairly consistent basis. Any product that there is a surplus, we’ve always been a go-to in Boston,” he said.