Boston wholesalers lean on staples

05/10/2012 10:14:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Many Boston area wholesalers are leaning on their produce staples, as the U.S. economy continues to recover from the Great Recession.

The news out of Wall Street and the labor market may be improving, but for Boston-area wholesalers like Everett, Mass.-based Community-Suffolk Inc., times are still tough.

One way that shows up on a day-to-day basis is more reliance on staple items and less experimentation with new items, said Steven Piazza, Community-Suffolk’s president and treasurer.

“We’re sticking to our core items, just trying be better on those,” Piazza said. “It’s very, very expensive to experiment these days.”

If one of those “experiments” works, Piazza said, a company may be looking at a $1 or $2 per-box profit boost.

If it doesn’t work, which is often a stronger possibility in today’s belt-tightening times, it could be looking at a $5 to $7 per-box loss instead, Piazza said.

For Community-Suffolk, those steady-performer staples include carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, broccoli, lettuce, lemons and oranges, Piazza said.

The company’s mix of those items hasn’t changed much in recent years.

“Everything’s pretty stable on our end,” Piazza said.

For a company like Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, Mass., specialties are the staples. Among the more consistent performers for Cooesmans Boston are avocados, spring mix and hydroponic lettuce, said Maurice Crafts, salesman.

Mexican avocados, in particular, Crafts said, have benefited from aggressive industry promotions, which makes the job that much easier for Coosemans and its retail and foodservice customers.

“It’s hard enough as it is — when the growers give you a push, it’s nice,” he said.

Colored bell peppers have enjoyed a good run recently for Coosemans, Crafts said. And sales of baby bells, a relatively new item for the company, are seeing annual gains.

Microgreens are another item that Coosemans is bullish on for future growth.

The Alphas Co., Chelsea, is another company that relies on specialty sales as part of its “staple” business. Asian and Indian vegetables remain big sellers for the company, said Yanni Alphas, president and chief executive officer.

But like Piazza, Alphas said the current economic climate isn’t as conducive to experimenting with new items.

“It used to be, you’d take a shot at carrying stuff — there was a lot more speculation,” he said. “I don’t think that will continue.”



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