Courtesy Coosemans Boston Inc.Harvey Phelps, produce department manager for Foster's Supermarkets in Boston, scopes out the produce for sale at the New England Produce Center.After a long, cold winter, produce wholesalers in Boston said they were starting to see signs of vibrancy in late April.
“Everyone is looking for the weather to break and get business rolling and get more action in here,” said Maurice Crafts, salesman with Chelsea, Mass.-based Coosemans Boston Inc.
Business over the long winter slog had been good, but it couldn’t match the traffic warmer temperatures create, Crafts said.
The past winter, noted for its ferocity in Boston and elsewhere, provided an extra weight on business, said Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development and partner with Infinite Herbs LLC, Miami, which has a branch in Everett, Mass.
“Because of transportation and weather, it was very difficult to get products here,” he said, counting truck shortages and cancelled airline flights among the problems.
There are other drivers in produce sales in Boston, wholesalers said.
One is value, said Steven Piazza, salesman and president of Everett-based wholesaler Community-Suffolk Inc.
“I think the economy is still bouncing back a little bit, but people are still wide aware of what they’re spending on food, and when you can provide a consistent value, your volume stays consistent.”
Retail and foodservice customers also are paying more attention to paperwork these days, Crafts said.
“It seems like you have to be certified in this and that, and that’s not going away,” he said.
Penalosa said his company has a strong presence in retail and foodservice, and each category has its own product preferences in the Boston area.
“Foodservice is more oriented to more variety of products and conventional and also sourcing through local, and retail is focused more on organic and some local,” he said.
Local restaurants are hungry for options, said Henry Wainer, president of New Bedford, Mass.-based wholesaler Sid Wainer & Son.
“More variety, more programs and as much local produce as we can get from local farms,” he said.
Customers want local produce, but they want other choices, too, Wainer said.
The local and regional marketplace continues to become more fragmented as new retail and foodservice options appear for consumers, said Bob McGowan, president of the Burlington, Mass.-based Northeast Produce Council and partner in Wellesley, Mass.-based brokerage Northeast Produce Sales.
“The industry certainly continues to evolve and change and become more fragmented with new entries into the marketplace,” he said.
Consumers are looking for values, and retailers have to respond, McGowan said.
“There’s obviously a big focus on fresh departments in the traditional supermarkets, particularly in light of the more specialized retailers coming to the market in a bigger way,” he said.
Where values are concerned, this year could be a buyer’s market, said Peter John Condakes, president of Chelsea-based wholesaler Peter Condakes Co. Inc., which specializes in tomatoes.
“My sense — and this is going to sound pessimistic — there’s big-time oversupply on a lot of different items,” he said. “Demand is absolutely not keeping up with supply.”