“Dynamic” is a common theme Ohio produce suppliers use to describe their business and markets.
Much of that has something to do with growth trends, either in retail, homegrown or some new branch of business.
With Columbus, Ohio-based wholesaler DNO Inc., the business has expanded in numerous ways, said Tony DiNovo, president.
DiNovo said his business handles “a lot of contractual stuff,” with government, schools, prisons and other institutions.
The company also is more regional than it was in previous years, now sending trucks to Cleveland, Detroit and Cincinnati.
There are other growth areas as well, DiNovo said.
“Even though we’re predominantly a wholesaler, our growth is really in the fresh-cut,” he said.
That has opened doors to school business, he said.
“The driving force is we’re doing individual packs — 2- and 3-ounce individual servings,” he said.
“A lot of schools basically doubled the standard for the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables on the trays and they’ve also expanded snack and breakfast programs, so there’s a pretty heavy emphasis on that in the schools now,” he said.
The produce business has evolved and necessitated the search for new revenue streams, DiNovo said.
“It’s harder and harder to exist just as a wholesaler,” he said, noting that competition from broadline distributors has forced produce distributors to take on “whole new skill sets.”
Retail consolidations also have affected the business, DiNovo said.
“The chains just pretty much put the kibosh on the independents, and we basically had to learn different ends of the business,” he said.
That’s where fresh-cut processing served the company well, DiNovo said.
The emergence of the local movement also has changed the produce business across Ohio, said James Sanfillipo III, partner in Columbus-based Sanfillipo Produce Co. Inc.
“Restaurants really want to push local as much as possible,” said Sanfillipo, whose company focuses almost entirely on foodservice clients.
Sanfillippo said his company sources local product as close to home as possible.
“I’d say 90% of our local product comes from within 60 miles of Columbus,” he said.
The rehabilitation of downtown districts in Ohio’s major cities has brought positive changes to the produce business, said Tom Sirna, chief executive officer of Ravenna, Ohio-based Sirna & Sons Produce.
“We’ve got a lot of people starting to move downtown — the occupancy is around 95%, which is new for Cleveland,” he said.
The resurgence of downtowns is good news for foodservice distributors, said Erv Pavlofsky, principal of business development with Dayton, Ohio-based ProduceOne.
“We’re seeing the independent restaurant is definitely regaining a lot of steam and a lot more mom-and-pop restaurants are reopening,” he said.