Point A to Point B
One North Kansas City, Mo., supplier of fresh and fresh-cut produce said he understands why his retail and foodservice customers want the consistency Hughes mentioned — consumers like consistency.
“Consistent flavor profiles and quality are what keep consumers coming back for our products,” said Nick Conforti, vice president of C&C Produce, which has a fresh-cut sister company, Cool Creations.
Conforti said pack consistency is second only to the weather when it comes to challenges local growers in the Midwest face.
The other big issue for Conforti is getting the right produce at the right time, which is particularly difficult with the short harvest seasons in the middle of the U.S.
He said C&C’s sales of locally grown tripled in the past year, which more than tripled delivery issues. So Conforti added a staff position and hired Chris Shea to head up C&C’s local buying program.
“Last year we had 10 growers. This year Chris added 25 more,” Conforti said.
Brendan Comito, chief operating officer for Capital City Fruit, Norwalk, Iowa, also cited logistics as one of the biggest hurdles to meet demands for locally grown produce. He said Capital City’s own trucks often end up back hauling to make deadlines for locally grown orders.
“We pull product from the entire Midwest. The logistics are really challenging,” Comito said.
Food safety still an issue
While consumers may be blinded by their love of locally grown produce, distributors and retailers have their eyes wide open when it comes to the food safety practices of Midwest growers, which are frequently smaller and more informal than commercial operations in California, Florida and Texas.
King Fresh Produce, Dinuba, Calif., for example, has a regional office in northwest Missouri, where it sources some produce, said owner Keith Wilson.
His company grows table grapes, citrus and pomegranates in California, so he is familiar with food safety issues from the buying and selling sides.
“The smaller growers in the Midwest are a bit behind in food safety, but they are catching up,” Wilson said.
Greenberg Fruit Co., Omaha, Neb., requires growers to have specific food safety credentials.
Brent Bielski, general manager for Greenberg, said in addition to having two in-house people who are certified HACCP auditors who visit growers, the company requires growers to have food safety certifications and third-party audits.
In Kansas City at C&C Produce, locally grown sales leader Shea personally visits growers to check their food safety practices and programs, said vice president Conforti.
“Chris helps them make sure they reach GAP certification,” Conforti said. “The Missouri Department of Agriculture is also very helpful with growers who are seeking GAP certification. We also require third-party audits for our growers.”