A little more than a year ago, a third-generation business that sold only fresh produce for almost 80 years decided to cast a new line and sell fresh seafood.
The venture has paid off at Carioto Produce.
Seafood sales have increased monthly at the Green Island-based wholesale distributor to about $2 million in the first year — or about 8 percent of the company’s annual revenues.
Anthony Carioto, 36, who co-owns the company with his brother Greg, 35, said the new product line surpassed their expectations and they plan to add other product lines, including gourmet pasta.
Two years ago, they purchased the company from their father, Tony Carioto Sr., and moved the company from Watervliet to a new 16,000-square-foot warehouse in Green Island. It has climate-controlled temperature zones inside to keep the produce and fish at the proper temperatures.
That first year, they saw sales increase 20 percent.
Since their grandfather Gus started Carioto Produce in 1929, the company had sold only fresh produce. But when they purchased the company, they were introduced to some new ideas from people like Al Hecker.
Hecker, now a seafood specialist at Carioto Produce, sent a letter to the brothers in late 2007, asking if they would be interested in selling seafood.
Anthony Carioto said they called Hecker in and started talking about it, and hired him — eventually.
“I was dead against it, I didn’t want any more perishable items, I was nervous,” said Anthony Carioto, who said they already had $1 million in perishable items in the warehouse. But Hecker convinced them the investment would be minimal and the turnover of inventory would be rapid.
Hecker said he has the fish shipped in every day, bypassing the middleman, and is able to move the product out in less than 24 hours, often much less.
New product line
Hecker had Carioto Produce’s new line up and running in three weeks with a seafood license. Soon after, it started advertising that it had fish and seafood available. Today, Carioto sells 3,000 cases of seafood a week to its customers, which include many restaurants in the Capital Region.
“If it swims, I’ll find it for you,” said Hecker, who finds seafood and produce similar in their fragile nature. Produce has to be distributed in three to four days; with fish it’s even quicker, at 24 to 48 hours.
Many people are also looking at their diets and concerned about the foods they eat, he said, so seafood, a low-fat, high-protein food, has a definite niche in the Capital Region.
Hecker works with fish markets in Boston, Gloucester and Long Island and he said he has a reputation for being fussy about the fish he’ll buy.
Last summer, when gas prices were more than $4 a gallon, many customers were getting hit with high fuel surcharges from their suppliers, said Anthony Carioto. Having the seafood arrive on the same truck as the fruits and vegetables cut out one of these unwelcome expenses, he said.
“Customers said it made sense to combine seafood and produce. It’s one less truck, one less phone call, one less fuel surcharge,” said Hecker.
Seafood sales increased every week and every month in the first year Carioto Produce started selling it, said Greg Carioto and it’s because of the quality of the seafood, the competitive prices, and the fact that the company delivers seven days a week, which can take a fish from boat to restaurant kitchen in under 24 hours. Some of their competitors will deliver seafood only once or twice a week, he said.
Hecker puts a purchase order in by 2 p.m., the seafood arrives from the wholesaler at 2 a.m., it’s in a Carioto truck by 6 a.m., and it’s delivered before noon. “They have it in less than 24 hours from the pier to the door,” he said.
Carioto Produce still sells 16,000 cases of produce per week to customers that include the Schenectady City School District, Siena College, nursing homes, hospitals and many other institutions well beyond the Capital Region.
They have customers as far north as Bolton Landing and as far south as Woodbury, and they also sell to smaller wholesalers and produce suppliers. But the brothers credit small, locally owned restaurants as the loyal core of the company’s business over the decades.
The Carioto brothers work with about 100 farmers, many of them local, some from elsewhere in New York, to keep a steady stream of produce coming in during warmer months.
The rest of the year, when fresh produce is not available in New York, their inventory comes from wherever it’s being harvested, whether it’s potatoes in Idaho or peppers in Arizona. They work with food brokers in these different areas to ensure the product is fresh when it arrives at the warehouse, just off Interstate 787 in Green Island.
The two brothers, who usually arrive at work by 2 a.m. each morning, credit their grandfather and father for the success of the business.
“My father was one of the hardest working guys we’ve ever known,” said Greg Carioto.
Anthony and Greg said they remember their father worked seven years straight, seven days a week without a single day off — not even Christmas or Thanksgiving.
He was a role model when it came to work ethics said Greg Carioto. “He wanted us to be the best.”
Hecker said Gus Carioto created a very strong foundation and the boys built on this foundation. “They were born into a work ethic with their father, and took it to the next level,” said Hecker.
“Service, quality and price. We offer the best,” said Anthony Carioto.