Living in the crossroads of the South, Atlanta’s residents — and produce distributors — enjoy a competitive metropolitan retail marketplace.

Many big supermarket chains including Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., and Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., vie for the shoppers’ pocketbooks.

Distributors say the many retail players help keep produce distribution moving.

“This is a very competitive retail town,” said Howard Mundt, president of Harvest Brokerage in Atlanta.

“We have Publix and Kroger. They go head to head. If Kroger puts up one store, Publix puts up another one 100 yards down. We also have Ingles (Ingles Markets Inc., Black Mountain, N.C.) down here. All these ads they run help the shoppers.”

Kroger, Publix and Wal-Mart remain the market leaders, said Andrew Scott, former sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc. in Atlanta.

Those chains and The Fresh Market Inc., Greensboro, N.C.; Aldi Inc., Batavia, Ill.; and Trader Joe’s Co., Monrovia, Calif.; merchandise produce well, he said.

“The retailers are getting aggressive with their pricing,” Scott said.

“Aldi’s been here a few years and are making their mark here in Atlanta. Trader Joe’s has expanded too as well as the Fresh Markets. We’re starting to get some of the higher-end retailers here. The independent retailers here in the Southeast are doing well.”

Through its own trucks and partnerships with other distributors, General Produce supplies produce to more than 200 independent stores, Scott said.

David Collins III, president of Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc. in Forest Park, Ga., said Atlanta has always been a dynamic retail marketplace.

He said many markets don’t see as many major players as those that ply their trade in Atlanta.

“This is a very competitive marketplace,” Collins said. “When we saw the recession a couple of years back, people were eating their dinner meal — their most expensive meal — at home. Retail business grew by 2% to 3%. That boded well for them.”

Retailers that interact with their customers thrive, said Diana Earwood, general manager of the produce division for Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc. in Atlanta, and general manager of Destiny Organics LLC in Forest Park.

“We see growth on the retail front,” she said. “Retailers are merchandising their produce through engaging and educating their consumers. That can be through a meet-and-greet with the watermelon queen during Memorial Day weekend or providing opportunities to know where their product came from along with a bit of information about the grower and/or farmer.”

Produce managers are also listening to their customers’ needs and supplying what they request or explaining why a product they want may not be available because of seasonality or quality issues, Earwood said.

Chris Garmendia, general manager of Produce Exchange of Atlanta Inc., Forest Park, said retail buyers have changed.

“I think they’re definitely more price conscience,” he said.

“Before, it was ‘give us the order.’ Now, they do a lot more shopping around to make sure we and other companies are right with our prices. People aren’t just coming in and giving us orders. They’re asking how much things cost and are comparing others to other prices.”

Cliff Sherman, owner of Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., Forest Park, said location helps success in retail.

“It depends on the part of town you’re in,” he said. “It depends where you’re at, as crazy as that sounds. You have some doing real well while others aren’t.”

Sherman said the retailers in the northern part of the city and in the suburbs to the north appear to do better in sales than others.

Retail sales account for about 30% of sales for Coosemans Atlanta Inc.

“You have all the major players here in this very competitive market,” said Brian Young, vice president.

“Each one offers their customers a specific format that brings customers back to their stores versus their competitors’.”