Distributors put winter blahs behind them - The Packer

Distributors put winter blahs behind them

08/07/2014 10:44:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — After a tough winter, St. Louis produce distributors and retailers are glad to see summer.

Sales of melons and other commodities have been steady this year for Midwest Best Produce Inc., said Dan Pupillo Jr., the company’s president.

“It’s been a good year,” Pupillo said of watermelon sales. “We flew through the winter, then February to spring was a tight market for North Florida and Georgia.”

Andy NelsonJim Heimos, president of Heimos Produce Co., said winter weather was rough, but the summer has been good. About half of the company's business is retail and the other half is foodservice, Heimos said.Summer markets, however, threw Midwest Best a bit of a curve ball, Pupillo said.

“We thought it would be tight for the Fourth, but we ended up having a surplus. And with a lot coming in after the holiday, it’s a slow time. We need to keep the crop turning over until we’re caught up.”

Watermelons are Midwest Best’s top commodity, Pupillo said. The company also ships cantaloupes, honeydews, mangoes, limes and other fruits and tomatoes, onions and other staple vegetables.

“In St. Louis and the Midwest, we do quite a bit of pineapples, cantaloupes, honeydews, limes and mangoes,” he said.

Midwest Best remains focused on keeping one step ahead of its customers’ food safety demands.

“We’re concentrating on streamlining, running a clean, efficient building,” he said. “With the new food safety guidelines, you have to stay on top of it. We’re trying to be proactive.”

Keeping up with the constantly evolving demands of picky consumers keep St. Louis retailers on their toes, said Greg Lehr, produce manager for local retail chain William A. Straub.

“The produce industry is ever-changing. It’s always tough,” Lehr said. “The last 10 years, it seems like there’s always an issue somewhere. People want what they want when they want it.”

Continued recovery from the Great Recession has been a boon for the St. Louis produce industry, said Dale Vaccaro, owner of Vaccaro & Sons Produce.

“Business has been good,” Vaccaro said. “I think the economy is turning around slowly.”

The year got off to a rough start for many St. Louis wholesalers, thanks to the abnormally cold winter, said Steve Wielansky, partner in Independent Fruit & Produce.

“It was a big challenge,” Wielansky said. “The weather was brutal here.”

Sal Pupillo, co-owner of H.R. Bushman & Son, agreed.

“It was a very tough winter,” he said. “Then the weather improved, and (St. Louis) starts with the homegrown. Usually it’s slow until late August.”

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