Wholesalers mixed on organics in St. Louis

09/27/2012 04:04:00 PM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — Some St. Louis wholesalers are optimistic about the future of organic produce, but others say the category isn’t growing much.

Sun Farm Foodservice has seen a big uptick in its organic business, thanks in large part to the efforts of a single saleswoman.

In late 2011, Danielle Camp started getting more interested in organics, said John Pollaci, Sun Farm’s president.

Acting on that interest, Camp forged a closer relationship with organics leader Earthbound Farm, Pollaci said. One recent highlight has been the marketing of a 2-pound clear, recyclable Earthbound bag for arugula and baby spinach.

“She’s really taken the reins on organic, and she has a good relationship with Earthbound,” Pollaci said. “We receive two shipments from Earthbound per week, and we’re stocking more items than we’ve typically stocked.”

The new arugula/spinach bag allows customers to check for quality before they buy it, he said. And it’s resealable for repeated uses. In addition to arugula and baby spinach, Tuscan kale is another popular organic item sold by Sun Farm.

Camp also has established a close working relationship with a local organic grocery/café, the Local Harvest Café, which recently opened a second store in St. Louis and has plans for a third store in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Pollaci said.

“There’s a clamoring in the marketplace for organic, and I think they’ve been pretty successful,” Pollaci said of Local Harvest Café.

Organic growth faces significant challenges in St. Louis, said Jeff Moore, vice president of sales in the St. Louis office of Tom Lange Co. Inc.

“The Midwest still lags behind both coasts in demand for organics,” Moore said. “It’s not because of a lack of education or understanding of the category, but more of price-point pressure in a very tough economy.”

Organic also hasn’t been as big a draw for customers of Vaccaro & Sons Produce, owner Dale Vaccaro said.

It’s not that organic is hard to segregate in the warehouse, Vaccaro said. The problem is demand.

“We sell some, but a very small number,” he said. “If the demand calls for it, we’ll supply it, but it’s a fairly limited market.”



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