John Vena Inc. Celebrates 100 Years of Evolution, Growth and Innovation

John Vena Inc. was started in 1919 by the first John Vena – a young, entrepreneurial immigrant from Sicily who decided to buy wine grapes from wholesalers at the Port of Philadelphia and resell them at the Dock Street produce market to support his family. A full century later his legacy lives on.

Their facility is still located in Philadelphia, and still family-owned-and operated, with the founder’s grandson, John Vena III, at the helm and the fourth generation, Dan Vena, leading the sales team.

John Vena I, founder of John Vena Inc., and his wife, Mary.

JOHN VENA, PRESIDENT: “In honor of our 100th Anniversary we’ve spent a lot of time defining who we are as a company at this landmark in our history. We’ve re-tooled our mission statement to capture the spirit of our team today: we are in the produce industry to make the business of food more interesting, more exciting, and ultimately more fun for our customers and their customers.”

“We believe that mission is at the core of what has kept us going for a century, and what will make us successful in the next 100 years,” John said. “Over the next few months we’ll be rolling out a new logo, as well. The new logo is modern and re-energized, but true to our history. Our style is changing along with the world around us, but we’re still a company that maintains old-school values like dedication and integrity. Some things never go out of style.”

EMILY KOHLHAS, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING added, “I couldn’t be more thrilled about this exciting refresh for the JVI brand. We’ve done a lot of work over the last year to think about the company’s history and how it’s made us who we are today. The new logo and mission statement are a clear reflection of our current amazing team – but still honor the legacy we’re building on every day.”

“JVI has been an anchor company on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market for a century,” Emily points out. “It’s a huge part of our history and who we are as a company. That being said, today we are a modern full-service produce importer, distributor, and wholesaler serving a diverse range of foodservice distributors, retailers, and processors up and down the East Coast. We maintain a cash and carry storefront on the market for 24-hour loading, but we’re not your typical consignment merchant. Our new identity pays homage to that history and focuses on all the cool things our team brings to the table now!”

JVI-Joe Menei, Ripening Manager at John Vena Inc., checks on ripening avocados.

Emily also hints at things to come: “To bring that new identity to life around the world, we’ll be launching a brand-new website with some unique content to help buyers and consumers navigate the world of specialty produce. And we’re going to hit 2020 running with a whole new line JVI-brand specialty items.”

Emily is excited to mention that John Vena Inc.’s centennial will soon be recognized with a proper celebration. “And what would a birthday be without a party! We’re celebrating our 100th Anniversary with a party for our team this fall. Our staff are at the heart of our operation (we even have folks who have been with us for upwards of 30 years) so it’s only fitting that our celebration serve as thank you to the people that put in the hours, day in and day out.”

Emily attributes their growth to many factors. “We’re always seeking to add new varieties, unique flavors, and innovative growers to our line-up, and are doing more direct importing for niche items – but a lot of evolution has happened in regards to the services we offer – that growth has been substantial.”

DAN VENA, DIRECTOR OF SALES: “For avocados, mangoes, and plantains we utilize our ripening facilities to build high volume programs. We do custom ripening for foodservice, retail, and processing clients in the Mid-Atlantic to get them fruit within a specific set of specs every week, even as the character of the fruit changes through the seasons.”

Dan Vena, Director of Sales and fourth-generation family at John Vena Inc.

“We have a constantly growing repacking department which allows us to offer value-added products to both our foodservice and retail customers – as well as organizations with unconventional needs like the meal kit sector,” Dan says. “This capability, along with our ripening services, has really allowed us to capitalize on the trend towards outsourcing the fresh procurement process to a partner that specializes in sourcing, handling, and packing produce, like ourselves.”

Exciting initiatives and new item introductions are on the horizon as John points out: “We’re increasing the amount of direct importing that we do and have seen some success. We just wrapped up our first season bringing in citrus direct from Israel – largely Orri mandarins and sunrise grapefruits. While we faced a number of challenges, the program was overall a win. We’ve learned over the years that importing is all about vetting your partners, believing in their product, and making sure communication is constant and clear. The process is particularly exciting because it allows us to introduce more unique products into the market – something that is core to who we are as a company. “

JVI-John Vena III, President of John Vena Inc., holding imported kilo basil, an item he helped to build a market for in the 1980s .