Sales clouded for Sunshine State industry

02/24/2013 07:02:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

TAMPA, Fla. — For Sunshine State produce distributors, produce sales aren’t so sunny.

While a few report strong sales and success, others say sales are flat, down or inconsistent.

“The produce economy has been a pretty rough go,” said James Killebrew, vice president of Baird Produce Inc.

“It’s been a tough year. Orders are down. We’re definitely seeing a decrease in volume.”

Even around the holidays when distributors expect an uptick in sales, movement was low, Killebrew said.

In south Florida, distributors express more optimism.

“I think this (tourist) season is starting to be a little better,” said Walter Vazquez Jr., chief executive officer of Miami-based Freedom Fresh LLC.

“We’re seeing more visitors. I think we’re seeing an earlier influx due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy and some of the storms that blew in.”

In south Florida, home of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, some of the state’s most populated metropolitan statistical areas, the region’s night clubs, hot spots, eateries, hotels, resorts and country clubs keep distributors hopping.

“I think our overall produce economy here is improving,” said Bruce Fishbein, partner with the Miami-based The Produce Connection Inc.

“The economy overall in this area is looking up. Tourism is doing fine. The hotels are full and we are getting a lot of business from the beach (South Beach). When they talk about the economy being off, I say to them to go visit the Hard Rock Cafe any Friday or Saturday. They’ll find it isn’t off. Miami is definitely a tourist destination and you’re seeing it.”

The Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa remains of prime importance to produce distributors.

Coosemans Tampa Inc. sends trucks to customers in the Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa and Sarasota regions as well as to Naples and Jacksonville.

“The Tampa-Orlando corridor is our biggest business,” said Justin Warren, general manager.

“The region seems to be doing fine and there’s not much change in the state’s produce economy from last year. The highs and lows are in different places but it just seems to be a mirror of the overall economy.”

Warren said not many produce distributors or customers have gone out of business and said news reports show produce mirroring the economy over the last couple of years.

Produce sales remain solid for Tampa-based Crews & Garcia Inc.


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