High fuel costs increase demand for locally grown

03/26/2012 08:36:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Boston area wholesalers expect a strong summer for locally grown sales, driven in part by higher transportation costs.

Soaring fuel costs have knocked many truckers out of business, making it likely that Boston wholesalers will have to work extremely hard to find transportation, said Yanni Alphas, president and chief executive officer of The Alphas Co., Chelsea, Mass.

The silver lining? For The Alphas Co., it should mean a record summer for local sourcing, Alphas said.

“We’re looking for homegrown (produce) to be more of a factor,” he said. “Trucks will be hard to get.”

Instead of relying so heavily on California and other far-flung growing regions, The Alphas Co. expects to rely more on broccoli, celery, lettuce, cauliflower, Asian and Indian vegetables and other commodities grown locally.

For Alphas, “local” in this context means not only Massachusetts but also Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Canada.

Henry Wainer, president of New Bedford, Mass.-based Sid Wainer & Son, said a mild Massachusetts winter has soils in great shape for planting this season, with little erosion or other problems reported.

Foodservice specialties shipper Wainer & Son owns its own experimental farm in and near New Bedford and sources extensively from other local growers.

The items the company grows successfully on an experimental basis often become bigger-volume items for local growers Wainer & Son works with, Wainer said.

Asian greens, chili peppers, baby potatoes and a wide variety of tomatoes, eggplants and beans are expected to be among the hot locally grown specialties for Wainer & Son this season.

Wainer agrees with Alphas that transportation costs play a major role in increasing demand for locally grown.

“Anything we can do to take transportation costs out, we will,” he said.

Cluster tomatoes from Madison, Maine-based Backyard Farms LLC have become a huge locally grown success story for Chelsea, Mass.-based Coosemans Boston Inc., said Maurice Crafts, salesman.

“Since they opened their doors, we’ve had a very good relationship,” Crafts said.

Growth in Coosemans’ local program has by no means been through the roof in recent years, Crafts said, but the category does continue to do well.

“Locally grown, closer to home — everybody’s into that now,” Crafts said. “We hope to do a little more than last year.”

Fiddleheads, ramps and garlic shoots were among the locally grown items Coosemans enjoyed big success with in 2011, he said.


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