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.

Steven Piazza, president and treasurer of Everett, Mass.-based Community-Suffolk Inc., reports a small uptick in demand for the company’s locally grown summer vegetables.

Massachusetts-grown sweet corn is one popular item.

But the big draw — and one that may stretch the definition of “local” to include “regional” — is Quebec, which produces most of Community-Suffolk’s core vegetable items (the company specializes in carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, broccoli and lettuce), mainly in August and September.

“We do a tremendous amount of business from Quebec,” he said. “It’s a very nice deal. It grows every year.”

As for other locally grown deals closer to home, Piazza said those are better tailored to smaller, specialty houses on the New England Produce Center and the Boston Market Terminal.

High fuel costs this summer will likely drive up demand for locally grown produce in the Boston area, agrees Ken Cavallaro, treasurer of Chelsea-based John Cerasuolo Co. Inc.

Peppers, cucumbers, squash, beans, eggplant and tomatoes are among the summer vegetables Cerasuolo sources from New England and upstate New York, Cavallaro said.

Because of its particular mix of offerings, the only locally grown produce sourced by Chelsea-based Travers Fruit Co. on a consistent basis is summer blueberries from New Jersey, said Richie Travers, the company’s secretary and treasurer.

Grapes, berries, pineapples and other fruits are among the company’s staples.

“In general it doesn’t fit in with our repertoire,” he said.



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