Weather ups and downs
After a strong May and June, volumes start to taper off in July before picking up again in September and October, Vaccaro said.
It has to do with Mother Nature, not with demand.
“There’s too much heat. The tender stuff is not too tolerant.”
Fortunately for Vaccaro & Sons and other distributors of local fruits and vegetables in the St. Louis area, the heat has stayed away more than it did last year.
“This year the quality’s been excellent,” Vaccaro said. “Last year everything burned up.”
Independent Fruit & Produce, another wholesaler on the St. Louis Produce Market, was finally starting to ramp up its local sourcing of cucumbers, squash, peppers, cabbage, eggplant, watermelon and other fruits and vegetables by mid-July, said partner Steve Wielansky.
“Everything’s a bit late because of the weather,” he said.
Like other distributors, Wielansky looks forward to a rebound following a disappointing 2012.
“It was a little challenging with the drought last year.”
Sal Pupillo, co-owner of H.R. Bushman & Son, said consumer demand for locally grown in St. Louis continues to grow.
“We’re sourcing more local than we ever have,” he said. “You’ve got to give the customers what they’re asking for.”
Retailers and foodservice buyers alike love to source locally, Pupillo said. St. Louis area restaurants love to play up the local tomatoes, the local basil or any number of other commodities on their menus.
“We take pride in what we’re able to grow around here.”
At the height of the season, Bushman is able to source about 10% of its total volume from local growers in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, Pupillo said.
The company even sources greenhouse tomatoes from the Ozarks.
Educating growers in the logistics of working with a broker or distributor can be an interesting experience, Pupillo said.
“It’s a learning curve with these local guys,” he said. “They’re used to farmers markets. It’s a whole different level when you go to chain stores.”
One lesson that’s sunk is the need for area growers to pack produce in packs distributors and brokers can actually sell it in, Pupillo said.
“They can’t just bring it in bushel boxes,” he said. “They pack it in the packaging we need it in.”
There are all kinds of reasons for distributors, brokers, retailers and everyone else along the supply chain to prefer local when it’s available, Pupillo said.