(June 23, 12:48 p.m.) CHELSEA, Mass. — There’s no shortage of produce distributors vying for business in the Boston area. Ask merchants in the New England Produce Center here or next door at Boston Market Terminal, Everett, and they’re bound to say the market here is one of the most competitive.

With continuing retail consolidations and a softening economy, the competition may only get fiercer. Some distributors talked about aspects that help differentiate them from others.

Peter John Condakes, president of Peter Condakes Co. Inc., Chelsea, said he tries to compete for business based on a total value proposition. In other words, if a customer complains that his price is higher than another house’s price, Condakes might remind him or her that Condakes Co. works hard to keep the facility clean so that it meets food safety certification standards.

“I try to differentiate on quality, food safety, traceability and service,” he said.

Condakes Co. handles vegetables, citrus, deciduous and stone fruits, tomatoes and tropical produce. It is reintroducing strawberries to its line this spring, Condakes said.

People and service

Sam Rocco, president of BC Produce Inc., Chelsea, said he thinks a good and honest personality can be a main point of differentiation for produce houses. The level of service also helps differentiate suppliers, but he thinks the product mix doesn’t always provide a niche.

“People can buy the same produce elsewhere,” he said.

BC Produce’s major lines are citrus, potatoes and onions, tomatoes, Canadian winter vegetables and avocados, Rocco said. The majority of its business is with foodservice buyers.

Citrus fruit makes up a large part of the company’s sales. Clementines, in particular, are growing in popularity, Rocco said.

John Cerasuolo Co. Inc., Chelsea, does about 50% of its business with foodservice buyers and 50% with retailer buyers. It handles vegetables almost exclusively, said Ken Cavallaro, treasurer.

Its largest-volume item is the pepper category, including bells and specialties. It does not carry potatoes or onions.

Cavallaro said having experience in the industry, maintaining longstanding relationships and paying close attention to detail can set a merchant apart from others.

High-volume staples

Mutual Produce Inc., Chelsea, does about half of its business with foodservice buyers and half with retailer buyers, said Richie Travers, partner. The company carries high-volume items, including berries, grapes, pineapples, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, mangoes, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and leaf vegetables. It does not carry specialty produce, Travers said.

About 80% of Everett-based Community-Suffolk Inc.’s business is with retailer buyers, said Steven Piazza, salesman. It handles mostly staple vegetables, including carrots, cabbage and potatoes. It specializes in high-volume, low-margin produce items, so it does not carry organic produce, which tends to be low-volume and high-margin.

“We may not have everything, but we have enough of what we sell,” Piazza said of Community-Suffolk’s inventory. “We have enough at the right price every day.”

Specialties

Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, features specialty produce that often appeals to chefs or upscale restaurants and retailers. Microgreens, Sharon fruit, blood oranges, hydroponic lettuce and fingerling potatoes are strong sellers, said salesman Maurice Crafts.

Some items at Coosemans are grown locally, and some are organic, but the primary goal is to carry top-quality specialty produce, Crafts said.

Another specialty produce distributor, Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, prides itself on offering top quality produce, much of which is grown locally, and good customer service, said Henry Wainer, president. The company’s niche is specialty produce and foods, “everything but the center of the plate,” Wainer said.