Economy dominates conversation in Michigan markets - The Packer

Economy dominates conversation in Michigan markets

11/15/2012 04:01:00 PM
Jim Offner

“We keep our eyes on the trends, and we’re always looking at new ways of packaging and running our business, but as a family-owned company, we’re pretty nimble that way,” he said.


Signs of a turnaround

Foodservice generally has been hit harder than other sectors, according to produce distributors.

Restaurants in Michigan have been resilient, though, said Tom LaGrasso, owner of LaGrasso Bros., a Detroit distributor that deals mainly with foodservice customers.

“On the restaurant side, it seems like it’s trending up the last three years, that we’re seeing restaurant sales increase from a produce standpoint, which is always a good thing,” LaGrasso said.

“At least looking at the last couple of years, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of produce that they’re using,” he said.

LaGrasso said he also has a wide distribution area, so his company has been somewhat insulated from Detroit-specific issues.

Price is a major driver in a tough business environment, and dealers have had to adjust, said Michael Badalament, a salesman with R.A.M. Produce Distributors in Detroit.

He said his company has made the necessary adjustments.

“I think things get to a certain price, it’ll halt, whereas, before, people would be buying,” he said.

Competition is probably keener than before, he said.

“But overall, prices are what prices are; we have to service our shippers, too,” Badalament said.

Another economic calamity was the drought that wrecked 90% of Michigan’s apple crop in 2012, said Jim Heeren, president of Grand Rapids-based Heeren Bros. Inc.

“We didn’t even open up one of our facilities,” he said.

Heeren said, though, there are signs that recovery is starting.

He said his company was able to make the most of a bad situation in one way: The company is building a new office and warehouse complex, to which it is scheduled to move in 2013.

“You can’t build any cheaper than now,” he said.

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