M. Levin & Company Inc.
The late Michael Levin founded M. Levin & Company Inc. (MLC) as a small produce sales operation when he began selling bananas off a horse-drawn wagon in 1906. MLC continued to grow and developed a strong customer base in and around the Tri-state area over the years. In the 1920s MLC became so large with its banana distribution business that Atlantic Fruit Company, a big banana supplier at the time, turned over its banana-ripening business to MLC. The ripening deal helped cement MLC’s place in the banana-ripening world.
Over the years, the business has grown exponentially. With time came change, and MLC changed hands through the generations, passing from the late Michael to his four sons, to their four sons and then to their four daughters. Today Mark Levin, current CEO and co-owner of MLC, is the third generation to run the business.
“In 1971 I was sure I would be a psychology major,” says Mark. “I soon switched to business and, in my third year of college, I did an internship with Chiquita Brands, which gave me a new and different perspective on the business. Still, every summer or winter vacation I worked in the family business. So, before I graduated, I told my father I wanted to join the family business. Nothing was mechanized back then and it wasn’t much of a glorious business. It wasn’t something he’d ever forced upon me to come into, but he was happy that I decided to join the family business, and I love what I do. If you enjoy your work, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Unique Products and Services
Loving what he does, Mark puts his best foot forward on a daily basis, thus making MLC more than just a fruit company. The business imports a massive variety of fruits, vegetables, tropical items, drinks, cheese, seasonings and more. The team also operates an in-house ripening service. MLC and other like-businesses offer controlled ripening; for example, turning green bananas different shades of yellow depending on the fruit’s final retail destination.
MLC operates out of two main facilities; its home base is located in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, as well as another facility just down the street on Pattison Avenue in Philadelphia, which is across from the old site of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.
“Between our two locations, we ripen 35,000 boxes of bananas every week,” Mark elaborates. “We also sell a few trailers of tropical fruit, in addition to rail cars of potatoes, onions and other types of fresh produce per week. We operate out of a state-of-the-art facility and offer a full line of fresh fruits and vegetables for distribution. The Pattison Avenue facility is a 200,000-square-foot warehouse designed to allow railcars to come into the building, which gives us greater access to incoming product and easier transport of outgoing product.”
Mark is proud to note how far MLC has come, as the process of becoming the company it is today is equally as important as the products offered. “The first thing you learn here is how to ripen bananas,” explains Mark. “We teach our employees how to promote a product and how to sell it. We have the advantage of more than 100 years of experience. Here, we learn from our predecessors. Many companies don’t teach this business hands-on like they used to. We require our employees to learn what everything is and how things work before we advance anyone; this goes for family members, as well.”
A Plum by Any Other Name
Changes in technology have affected the business, despite the Levin family’s homegrown business model. “This is the technological age,” explains Mark. “Everyone is on the Internet and Facebook. We are in the produce business and we are good at what we do, because we are people-people. You can’t sell the way we do through a computer. A lot of people want to do everything through email, get the prices and request a quantity. They don’t want to have to talk to anyone in person anymore; they would rather communicate through emails and text messages.”
Fortunately, the fourth generation of the Levin family has joined the business with the same customer-focused mentality. “This generation is all women,” notes Mark. “All of them are here by choice and they have great ideas on how to approach the future of this business.”
As the industry develops, MLC continues to grow with a wealth of dedication and knowledge. As Mark and his team make new connections with suppliers and clients alike, the inventory also adapts. “Our tropical business has grown tremendously over the last few years,” says Mark. “We have ramped up our trade with Asian, Latin American and Eastern European customers. We have yucca and malanga, which are popular within Hispanic communities. Our demographics have changed, so our products are changing, too.”
With that in mind, the business’ goal has never been to become the largest in the industry, as there are many wholesalers all over the country who have respective specialty niches. “We should never be content,” Mark explains. “We are always willing to help this company grow.”
With a hands-on approach to fresh fruits and vegetables, the team continues to maintain a leading position in the market. Distributing products as far north as Canada, as far west as Ohio and as far south as Virginia on a daily basis, M. Levin & Company Inc. continues to provide quality produce and service backed by a century of experience through the next generation.
For more information about M. Levin & Company Inc., please visit: www.mlevinco.com.