With easy access to the East Coast’s growing regions, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., distributors enjoy a thriving business selling local produce.
Distributors say they have always promoted local product and report strong customer interest in buying local and regional produce.
The distributors draw from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia growers, the region’s Eastern Shore and other nearby states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.
Distributors say the summer remained challenging for procurement of local product.
“There have been a lot of issues this year with the weather,” said Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc., Washington, D.C.
“Growers had a lot of rain and heat. There was a lot of damage done by the inches and inches of rain that inundated growers and it really shortened the growing seasons in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.”
Local demand remains strong, Pappas said.
T.J. Rahll, operations manager of Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., Jessup, Md., echoed the season’s weather problems.
He said the weather harmed the product quality distributors normally see.
Rahll said the distributor works closely with some of the larger local growers to ensure it ships quality and safe produce.
“We are constantly working with them to help them get their certifications,” he said.
“We’re doing our best to prepare them for the audits which are coming. It’s tough. Many of the smaller guys say they will be gone and won’t be growing anymore once the auditing requirements come. But many other don’t have that attitude and see that’s the way the future will be.”
Sal Cefalu, owner and director of CGC Holdings, the parent company of Jessup-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc. and Capital Seaboard, said the distributor works closely with its local growers.
“Everyone says buy local and we agree with it,” Cefalu said.
“But as a reputable company that’s trying to do things the right way, we have to make sure all the documentation is in place. A smaller farmer here is growing his product properly just as the national farms in Florida and California, but we have to get that documentation to hold up.
“As long as the farmer can provide the documentation to us and the support we need to follow through, we really try to support the local growers.”
Distributing local product remains a natural for Lancaster Foods Inc. in Jessup, which trucks produce to customers throughout the eastern U.S.
Jerry Chadwick, vice president of sales and marketing, said buyers can better source local production by working with distributors that possess expertise in dealing with growers.
“A lot of retailers, if they’re dealing with a small farmer, the product sometimes looks like it came directly from the field, with clumps of dirt on the squash,” he said.
“That’s not what consumers are expecting. They can get that when dealing with small local growers or the product isn’t properly cooled.
“The value we believe we provide is we have the eyes and food safety inspectors and quality control between the grower and the retailer.”
Just because something is marketed as locally grown doesn’t mean distributors automatically accept the product.
“We will take local if it’s better but by the same token, we won’t sell local only because it’s local,” said Tony Vitrano, president of the Tony Vitrano Co., Jessup.
“It’s a question of quality. The quality and availability has to be there.”
Vitrano said the distributor is handling more local produce than it did a decade ago and defines local as product grown within driving distances of several hours.