Drought puts pinch on local suppliers in Michigan - The Packer

Drought puts pinch on local suppliers in Michigan

11/15/2012 04:22:00 PM
Jim Offner

As a drought persisted in Michigan, gloom descended on its apple growers. And an uncharacteristically persistent heat cooled off the cherry business.

All in all, growers in Michigan said 2012 was a tough year.

By fall, Michigan produce distributors were having to cope with lower-than-usual supplies of homegrown produce.


Local suppliers hit hard

Retailers across the state that aggressively promote local produce may have felt the shortage more acutely than anyone else in the supply chain, said Terry Grooters, a manager with Ken’s Fruit Market Inc., a two-store chain in Grand Rapids.

“We do the best we can with what we can get, but this year was particularly hard,” said Grooters, whose two-store company specializes in Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.

That loyalty cuts two ways, Grooters said.

“The local orchards we deal with are phenomenal people to work with, and we have some wonderful growers who really kind of look out for their own,” he said.

Growers are on the lookout for customers such as Ken’s, which will actively promote their products, Grooters said.

“You come into our store right now, and we’ve got all our Michigan-based apples of all varieties,” he said.

The products are competitively priced, too, Grooters said.

“We’ve got ’em all for 89 cents a pound — Honeycrisp for a little bit more,” he said.


Shortages, quality issues

Ken Courts, owner of Ken’s Fruit Market, said the harsh weather posed a problem for his stores this year.

“Not many peaches around, sweet cherries were nonexistent, and apples, although they are around, they’re not the quality of them isn’t very good — a lot of small stuff,” he said.

What was available wasn’t expected to last long, he said.

“Even though there’s different varieties around, in another month, it will be all gone,” he said.

When the local supplies run out, so do retailer choices, Courts said.

“If there’s no homegrown, you have to get it shipped in, and our customers understand that,” Courts said.

Apple supplies were running low earlier than usual, with only an estimated 10 percent of the 2012 apple crop having come to market, distributors said.

“It hasn’t been this bad since 1945, and I wasn’t born then, and a few old-timers that are still around say this is even worse,” said Jim Heeren, president of Grand Rapids-based Heeren Bros. Inc.

Nobody got “wiped out” by the drought, which was a blessing, said Nate Stone, chief operating officer at Detroit-based wholesaler Ben B. Schwartz & Sons Inc.

“There has been a limited supply of Michigan asparagus, a limited supply of blueberries, a limited supply of apples, but it’s just like with any other category, if it rains in California, you use strawberries from Florida,” he said.

For apples, Michigan’s loss is Washington’s gain, said Tom LaGrasso, owner of LaGrasso Bros. Inc., a Detroit wholesaler.

“We’re just relying more and more on the Washington crop as opposed to having the local Michigan offering, which is an issue that affects certain customers that are price-sensitive,” he said.

For those for whom the shipping costs are a concern, other fruits may have to fill the bill, he said.

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