Eat-at-home trend benefits fresh produce at retail in Ohio

10/31/2011 11:36:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Produce sales to retailer buyers are strong because consumers continue to save money by eating at home more often, Ohio suppliers say.

The market for fresh produce in Ohio remains steady for sales to retailer buyers, said Jeffrey Busch, chief operating officer at Caruso Inc., a Cincinnati-based logistics and produce company.

Most of its produce sales are to retailer buyers, and that business has been good despite the rough economy, Busch said.

Consumers who are trying to save money tend to eat at home more frequently.

“They have to go to the supermarket and that benefits us,” he said. “We’ve been a bit insulated from the economy.”

Caruso has seen a 43% growth in sales in the past two years. In addition to produce, the company ships a broad range of products, with a focus on fresh food, Busch said.

Busch said he thinks that because the economy remains poor, consumers continue looking for the best values when they shop for fresh produce.

Retailers in Ohio are interested in providing their customers with good values in the produce section, so Caruso works to offer buyers the best produce values it can, Busch said.

Greg Fritz, president of Cleveland-based Produce Packaging Inc., said price probably remains the largest determining factor in whether he can develop new business, but service and dependability are important factors in maintaining his current customer base.

“When times are tough, you want to know you can count on the customer, just like they can count on you,” he said.

Warrensville, Ohio-based Heinen’s Inc. is one local chain that Produce Packaging works with. It is an upscale chain with discriminating customers who demand high-quality items.

Produce Packaging also sells to a discount grocery chain, where value is most important.

Tony DiNovo, president of Columbus, Ohio-based DNO Inc. said his family has been a longtime supplier of independent retailers, but there are not as many around now.

DNO, a produce wholesaler that repacks and processes fresh-cut produce, continues to work with and supply independents in its area.

Ben Roth, president of Roth Produce Co., Columbus, said major retailers in the area include Giant Eagle Inc., Pittsburgh; The Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Aldi USA Inc., Batavia, Ill.; Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.; Whole Foods Inc., Austin, Texas; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

Giant Eagle Inc. in October 2010 opened an upscale Market District store in Columbus.

Roth said the new store offers a “mindboggling” array of products, including exotic meats as well as organic and local produce.


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