Member Since: 1958
The Background: In 1952, three men working in the wholesale produce business in Pittsburgh — Fred Siger, Ubby Cohen and Anthony Corso — opened up their own terminal market operation. “The company’s foundation was built on two main items,” said Alan Siger, son of Fred and current chairman of the board, “potatoes and western fruits and vegetables.”
The Early Years: “We worked with all the big shippers,” said Alan. “We use to sell 30,000 cartons of iceberg lettuce per week at our peak. We’d have 20 loads of potatoes rolling from the Bakersfield area at one time.”
He rattled off a list of suppliers from the western produce business that reads like a who’s who from that era. “I really don’t want to name them because I am sure I left somebody off,” Siger said. “We worked with everybody. The western produce industry has always been a very important part of our success.”
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Different Career: When Alan Siger was a young boy in the late 1950s, he remembers coming down to the market and helping his father out on weekends. “I remember he sent me with a truck driver to the Acme Markets distribution center to help unload a truck when I was eight years old. I’m sure the truck driver got paid for babysitting me.”
Through the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Alan worked at the facility during the summers and weekends but he was going to the University of Pittsburgh studying statistical analysis that he thought could lead to a career in polling like what the Gallup Poll people were doing. “Then a salesman in the fruit department had a heart attack and couldn’t continue working. I dropped out of college and went to work for the company…not for my dad but for one of the partners — Ubby Cohen. He was a fantastic teacher. He was one tough cookie but as honest as the day was long. He taught me a lot.”
Tragedy Sets the Future Path: Five years later, in 1978, Fred Siger died suddenly. Ubby Cohen was the only partner left and they did have a buy/sell agreement in place that would have allowed him to buy out the Siger stake hold. “But Ubby was 78 at the time. He didn’t want to retire but he didn’t want to buy me out either. We worked side by side until 1984 when he retired and my brothers and I bought him out.”
Alan’s brothers were never day-to-day active partners in the business though they remained involved in the administrative and legal end. The ownership is still in the hands of Alan, his brother, Jeff, as well as the estate of the third brother, who died unexpectedly at the young age of 51.
Once his father died, Alan jumped into the industry feet first, volunteering where he could and becoming involved in industry associations. “I became the youngest chairman United ever had,” he said. “I think I still hold the record.”
And his ties to the western produce industry and Western Growers were strengthened as well. He has attended many Annual Meetings over the years. “I made the last one in Maui a few years ago,” he said, “but couldn’t get out to Hawaii this year.”
Decades of Success: Consumers Produce is still going strong all these many years later because of its ability to change with the times, according to Alan. “Originally we had about 15 commodities but now we are a full-line distributor. The companies that have been able to change with the times have survived. The key is to try to stay ahead of the curve.”
Consumers Produce used to be a typical terminal market wholesaler, relying largely on people coming into the market, buying product and taking it to their place of business. About 15 years ago, the wholesaler moved into a state-of-the-art distribution facility and today it delivers almost everything it sells. The firm works with many different types of customers within about a 250 mile radius of its Pittsburgh location. It counts chain stores, Mom & Pop stores and many other distributors — foodservice and otherwise — on its customer list. “We compete not only with the other distributors in Pittsburgh but with the other terminal markets in the general area, including Philadelphia.”
Western fruits and vegetables are still a very important part of the business. “It’s all about the relationships, which we care about more than the product. We share in their celebrations and their sorrows,” Siger says of the grower-shippers he has known during his 40 years in the business.
Volume is King: It has been mostly a very good year for western produce shippers, which Siger applauds, but for the wholesaler, it’s all about volume. “We don’t like the price to be too low because retailers can’t make their numbers, and when it is too high, the volume isn’t there. It’s great to have a $50 (lettuce) market but volume drops off quickly. We like a healthy market where everyone can make some money and we can move a lot of product.”
Toward the Future: Last year Consumers Produce hired its first outside-the-family president/CEO in Greg Cessna. “That’s going to allow me to slow down and enjoy life a little bit,” Alan said.
But just as quickly, he added, “My succession plan is I plan on living forever.”
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