ORLANDO, Fla. — Produce sales are generally consistent for many Florida distributors.
While some wholesalers in The Sunshine State report below-average sales, most others characterize produce movement as consistent or a little better than normal.
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach
Florida’s largest populated areas, the distinct metropolitan areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, are doing well in terms of the overall economy, said Bruce Fishbein, a partner with The Produce Connection Inc., Miami.
“The overall Miami economy is not doing that badly,” he said in January. “South Beach is doing very well. I don’t think this area got badly hurt by the recession. With less room to rebound, there’s not that much of a marked difference.”
The colder weather people in the Northeast experienced during the winter of 2014 helped attract tourists to south Florida and keeps produce moving in the restaurants that are reporting busier sales, said Walter Vazquez Jr., chief executive officer of Miami-based Freedom Fresh LLC.
“With the cold weather in the north, we’ve seen greater numbers of tourists visiting the south Florida region,” he said. “There were many weeks when we were the only warm place in North America. That helped drive tourism. This region makes for an attractive and viable option for people to thaw out.”
From Miami to the Indian River region, the area’s upscale restaurants, country clubs and hotels remain busy, said Jack Scalisi, president of Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit & Produce in West Palm Beach.
“It’s like people are willing to pay for quality again,” he said. “Not that they wouldn’t before but now more of them can afford better quality. That’s helped our sales. Our business in 2013 was very good. Produce sales are strong and should be the same this year.”
Produce trade in the greater Tampa Bay region, which also includes St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota and Bradenton, remains healthy, said Louis Garcia Jr., president of the Tampa-based Crews & Garcia Inc.
“Produce sales have been pretty decent here,” Garcia said in late January. “Business hasn’t been too bad. Things are picking up a little. This past year, sales were up a bit.”
Produce sales are a little below average for Tampa-based Baird Produce Inc., said James Killebrew, vice president.
“I would say Tampa’s economy is probably close to the same as last year, maybe just a little stale,” he said. “That’s pretty much the way it’s been. We’re not noticing any huge difference in the way people are spending. It’s just down a little.”
Baird delivers product to customers in the Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando area and customers from Miami, Fort Myers and Jacksonville send their trucks to Baird’s operation on the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market.
With all of its theme parks and tourist destinations, the city that Disney built keeps foodservice distributors such as Harvill’s Produce Co. busy serving the area’s many eateries, hotels and resorts.
As most people concentrated on Christmas and other holiday activities, foodservice sales remained consistent in December when the hotels and theme parks begin seeing more visitors, said Ernie Harvill, president.
The busiest time for Orlando-area foodservice distributors starts in February and runs to the end of summer, he said.
“Demand here is decent,” Harvill said in late January. “We serve everyone from small sandwich shops to the theme parks. Business if fair. It isn’t bad but it’s not great. It’s busy enough, though.”
Harvill said there isn’t much industry in Orlando which is a metropolitan area driven by tourism.
In the state’s most northern metropolitan area, produce distribution remains consistent yet challenging at the same time, said Matt Wasson, vice president, owner and operator of The Garden Wholesale Produce Inc., in Jacksonville.
Produce demand remains solid but changes the city has seen in its produce distribution companies have affected business, he said.
“Overall, the economy is still tight but we have been blessed to gain market share through the various industry changes,” Wasson said. “There hasn’t been a lot of growth overall in the city. Produce business is status quo.”
Three major local suppliers historically served Jacksonville.
Today, while that number is the same, only two are headquartered in the city, Wasson said.