Florida produce purveyors find foodservice challenges

02/24/2013 06:57:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

TAMPA, Fla. — Foodservice sales, the backbone of much of Florida’s produce distribution, are consistent but somewhat stagnant, many distributors report.

The pace of business, however, depends on the region of Florida.

“Orders are still strong,” said Walter Vazquez Jr., chief executive officer of Miami-based Freedom Fresh LLC.

“The fast-casuals tend to be pretty steady. I think the higher-end establishments have been the ones that have been affected. As a society, most people are accustomed to going out and eating. People have just adapted and adjusted their budgets to be able to continue to do that.”

Foodservice business remains difficult for some distributors on the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market.

“Like the rest, foodservice is definitely down,” said James Killebrew, vice president of Baird Produce Inc., a Tampa wholesaler that trucks produce to customers throughout the state.

“The smaller independent jobbers are working a lot harder to get their business. It’s very competitive. People aren’t spending as much money as they were. Talking with people throughout the industry, we’re not alone in the slow business.”

For wholesalers that serve the many tourist attractions and theme parks of Orlando, sales remain consistent, said Ernie Harvill, president of the Orlando-based Harvill’s Produce Co.

“Those customers seem to be a little better,” he said.

“It’s still nowhere near what we were at one time. The good operators, they’re doing what they can to survive. The ones that weren’t good operators, most of them aren’t around anymore.”

In south Florida, home of the Miami area’s many nightclubs and eating establishments, business remains strong, said Bruce Fishbein, a partner with Miami-based The Produce Connection Inc.

“Overall, restaurants are doing well,” he said.

“It depends on the entrepreneur. Some guys out there really know what they’re doing and put out a quality food product. Their business just keeps getting better and better. It’s amazing. You go to South Beach or the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood on a Friday or Saturday night and will ask yourself, ‘What recession?’”

In the Jacksonville region, foodservice sales remain tough.

“This is a very competitive market,” said Abbey Deckman, sales manager for Jacksonville-based Sunrise Produce.

“It’s a lot more competitive than I ever thought it would be.”


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