Local's popularity, drought add pressure for St. Louis suppliers - The Packer

Local's popularity, drought add pressure for St. Louis suppliers

08/03/2012 11:07:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — Demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables is strong in St. Louis, but meeting it in the face of heat and drought conditions can pose challenges for wholesalers.

Locally grown corn and cabbage suffered from the extreme summer heat, said Sal Pupillo, co-owner of H.R. Bushman & Son, a wholesaler on the St. Louis Produce Market.

The good thing about the Midwest in mid-summer, Pupillo said, is that if weather knocks out a commodity in one growing area, chances are you can get it from another.

Some local growers were reporting troubles finding enough labor to pick the local tomato crop, Pupillo said.

Whether the local deal is expanding, Pupillo said, is a matter of perspective.

“It depends on what you call local,” he said. “If you include neighboring states, then yes, it’s becoming bigger. Kentucky is a neighboring state.”

Effective marketing strategy

Whatever the definition, there’s no doubt local is an effective marketing tool.

“It’s a good selling point for people who advertise,” he said.

Locally grown continues to be a big draw for Vaccaro & Sons Produce, owner Dale Vaccaro said.

“It’s midsummer, so everyone’s excited about home grown,” he said.

Tomatoes, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, eggplants, heirloom tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and “all sorts of oddball stuff — heirloom this, heirloom that” are among the locally grown fruits and vegetables Vaccaro & Sons sources for its customers.

Asked about recent market trends, Vaccaro doesn’t hesitate to name the biggest one: local.

Vaccaro & Sons typically sources locally grown within a 50-mile radius of St. Louis, Vaccaro said.

Locally grown is a big deal for Independent Fruit & Produce, another wholesaler on the St. Louis Produce Market, partner Steve Wielansky said. But 2012 has been a challenge.

“We do a lot of local in the summer, but this year has not really been good” because of the number of days the thermometer has topped 100 degrees, Wielansky said.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, cabbage, eggplant and watermelon are among the company’s big local sellers, he said.

Independent sources locally grown fruits and vegetables from Missouri and Illinois, Wielansky said.

Sun Farm Foodservice also sources more local product every year, said John Pollaci, president.

One of the company’s big suppliers of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables during the summer is Maryland Heights, Mo.-based Thies Farms, one of the larger farms in the region, Pollaci said.

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