“Steady” is probably the best word to describe the produce scene in Northern California.
Sales seem to be edging upward following a lengthy recession, but for most companies they haven’t yet reached pre-recession levels.
At grower level, hot weather in California early in the season played havoc with supplies at the same time weather woes in the East and Midwest spurred buyers who usually source locally during the summer to look to California to fill their orders.
Those conditions made for “a wild summer” for Bay Area Produce, Los Gatos, Calif., said Bob Loyst, executive vice president.
Loyst doesn’t expect conditions to return to normal until late September, when production kicks off in west Mexico.
“Overall, business has been steady,” said Eric Patrick, director of marketing for Grant J. Hunt Co., Oakland, Calif.
However, he said trends often are dictated by the ups and downs of particular crops.
A smaller-than-usual cherry crop this season, for example, meant cherry movement was down. On the other hand, good strawberry volume meant strong sales on the berry side.
Foodservice business has remained vibrant in the San Francisco area despite reports to the contrary in other parts of the country, said Ric Tombari, owner of Cooks Co., San Francisco, which does a lot of restaurant business.
“We never had a recession at Cooks,” he said.
“Restaurants in San Francisco are one of the most active and growing parts of the San Francisco economy,” he added.
Many Northern California companies are seeing increased demand for specialty fruits and vegetables.
“(That) is definitely a growth area in the Bay Area,” said Cory Puentes, director of Northern California for Orange, Calif.-based Interfresh Inc., which also has California locations in San Bruno and Walnut Creek.
He said he has seen an increasing number of speciality grocery stores open recently.
At Franzella Produce Inc. on the Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco, Calif., owner and president Philip Franzella said he has noticed a kind of transition in the speciality category.
Government crackdowns have slowed illegal immigration, he said, which has slowed business in Mexican items a bit, as has the fact that Hispanic immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a long time are becoming more acclimated to the American culture. They are consuming fewer Hispanic-type foods and more traditional American items.
At the same time, Franzella said he sees new immigrants from the Middle East along with more stores that cater to that demographic.
Business seems to be picking up at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, said long-time president Pete Carcione, who also is president of Carcione’s Fresh Produce Co. Inc.
Sales aren’t as good as they were three or four years ago, he said, but they’re getting better.
As in other regions, the Northern California market has changed over the years.
When Carcione started out on the market 44 years ago, most of the produce going into the Bay Area went through the produce market.
“This is not the case today,” he said.
Beto Gomez, head salesman at Carcione’s, estimates that up to 85% of the spaces at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal are occupied, and plans are in the works to update the 17-acre facility that is home to 28 produce houses, he said.
“We intend to make our market look better,” Carcione said, by spending money for a new paint job and other improvements.
Following the death of longtime market manager Primo Repetto this summer, Mario Caimotto, Repetto’s assistant since 1982, assumed the manager’s position at the privately owned facility, which is run for shareholders by an eight-member board of directors, most of whom are tenants on the market.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market finalized plans late this summer to expand the facility by 60%.
The expansion will take place in three phases, said Michael Janis, market general manager, and add 200,000 square feet to the market’s 300,000-square-foot footprint.