That works well with Itule’s business model, he said.
“We’re able to take care of the small independents. The large chains have distributors and contracts,” he said.
Each market across the Southwest region seems to have its own character, suppliers say.
Santa Fe, N.M., boasts many young chefs who bring in new ideas from other parts of the country, said Stacy Wilson, sales and marketing director for Santa Fe-based wholesaler Just the Best Ltd. Co.
“There’s a lot of really exciting things happing in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque,” she said.
One of the newest trends is a move toward “molecular gastronomy,” a process that involves using fresh produce, such as berries or carrots, to make faux caviar or pasta.
“The public is responding really well to it, and it’s all made with fresh produce,” she said.
Independents show strength
Independent restaurants and retail stores are drivers of the produce economy in Utah, said Murray Harris, sales manager at Salt Lake City-based fresh-cut processor Condies Foods Inc.
“Independent restaurateurs and grocers have been and will continue to fuel our growth,” he said.
Independents do well in the El Paso, Texas, area, too, said Nick Delgado, owner of distributor Quality Fruit & Vegetable Co.
“We do quite a bit of retail trade,” said Delgado, who does business with customers on both sides of the Rio Grande. “There’s a lot of independent stores that depend on the market here,” he said.
El Paso has “seven or eight good-sized” produce dealers, so there are plenty of options, Delgado said.
“Everybody kind of specializes in certain things, but on the retail end, they depend highly on support out of El Paso,” he said.