Demand for locally grown produce climbs - The Packer

Demand for locally grown produce climbs

08/07/2014 09:26:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — Demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables continues to grow in the St. Louis area.

“Local” is definitely the buzzword of the moment, but it’s another example of how there’s really nothing new under the sun, said Jim Heimos, president of wholesaler George A. Heimos Produce Co. Inc.

Dierbergs Markets, Inc.Locally grown produce demand continues to grown in the St. Louis area. Dierbergs Markets, Inc., offers customers locally grown produces, including tomatoes, which are doing particularly well for the company.“Years ago, we had 30 or 40 local farmers that hauled to my dad,” Heimos said. “Then the chains and foodservice got away from it.”

Transportation advances made it easier to truck in fruits and vegetables from California and other points west, so that’s what buyers wanted, Heimos said. Now, of course, the pendulum has swung back.

Poor growing weather has put a dent in some local programs this summer for St. Louis area retailer William A. Straub, said Greg Lehr, produce manager.

“There’s been a lack of homegrown peaches this year,” Lehr said.

By the second week of July, however, prospects for other locally grown favorites at Straub were looking up.

“Sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash and other vegetables are on track,” Lehr said.

On the specialty side, Straub continues to source Gold Bud peaches from California. Volumes should be comparable to last year and yields and quality should be normal.

“I haven’t heard any reports,” he said. “They should start arriving in mid-August.”

Gold Buds are an easy sell for Straub’s customers.

“They have incomparable flavor,” Lehr said. “The uniqueness drives it.”

Straub also has expanded its sourcing base to include more suppliers east of the Mississippi.

“There are some Ohio and Indiana farmers we don’t generally do,” Lehr said. “We mostly source from the West Coast.”

One Amish Ohio grower in particular, Greenfields, has become a solid organic supplier for Straub.

“Our organic volume is up,” Lehr said. “That category stays strong. Availability is increasing.”

Not too long ago, for instance, good organic tomatoes were few and far between. Now, Lehr said, the category is getting close to solid year-round coverage.

The locally grown tomato category is doing particularly well for Chesterfield, Mo.-based retailer Dierbergs Markets Inc., said Steve Duello, produce category manager.

“Local continues to be a hot button,” Duello said. “It’s a big deal for our customers. They want to know when it’s here, and when it is, they really shop it.”

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