There was no drought this year in Ohio.
That was the good news for the local deal, produce distributors said.
“For the retailer in Ohio, produce has had a really strong year,” said Nate Filler, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus-based Ohio Grocers Association.
The association made the most of a good situation by launching Oh So Fresh, a produce-focused offshoot of the Ohio Proud program of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Produce dealers say local produce is a worthwhile investment.
“It has seen steady growth,” said Tony DiNovo, president of Columbus-based wholesaler DNO Inc.
This year, the weather enhanced further growth possibilities, especially compared to last year, when apples, peaches, cherries and other specialty crops were basically wiped out, DiNovo said.
“This year, we had almost too much rain in the beginning, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing,” he said.
The local deal has grown at Columbus wholesaler Sanfillipo Produce Co., too, said partner James Sanfillipo III.
“Ten years ago, we weren’t selling much of anything (locally), but now, I know we’ve sold more local stuff than in the past, and every year has been an increase,” he said.
Sanfillipo is foodservice-focused, and restaurants are clamoring for local products, Sanfillipo said.
“Really, it’s nothing we have to actively sell,” he said.
Restaurants are more focused than ever on local product, said Jarrod Clabaugh, communications director with the Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association.
“The industry, as a whole, has become more focused on the local food movement,” Clabaugh said.
Tom Sirna, chief executive officer of Ravenna, Ohio-based wholesaler Sirna & Sons Produce, agreed.
“The whole local thing has continued to grow. We had another big year for local,” he said.
That happened even though there were some weather problems early in the spring, he said.
“We didn’t have a great growing season and had some real cool and real hot weather,” he said.
Prices fluctuated from occasional lapses in supplies, Sirna said.
“You had a huge price increase in some cases,” he said.
Customers still asked for Ohio product first, he said.
Erv Pavlofsky, principal of business development with Dayton, Ohio-based ProduceOne, said he has seen demand for local product grow steadily.
“We’re seeing the demand for local go up,” he said.
Pavolfsky also said sales increases in local items don’t necessarily translate to the company’s bottom line.
“If they start buying local, then they weren’t buying what they bought before,” he said.
Demand for local produce is one reason behind the creating of a network of produce auctions across the state, said Jim Mullet, sales director with the Ohio Produce Auction in Mount Hope.
“There are buyers out there who can’t just go anywhere,” Mullet said.
Their customers are asking for locally grown product for a variety of reasons, he said.
“They have to know where it’s coming from, and the people want to support local business, it seems, and they think they can trust the food,” Mullet said.