Doug OhlemeierThomas Cignarella (left), president of Morris Okun Inc., and Marvin Santana, tropical sales buyer, display the company’s tomatoes. Distributors say they’re benefiting from a consumer interest in healthy eating.NEW YORK — Wholesalers in New York say they’re benefiting from increased interest in expanding produce consumption.
Popular culture’s interest in healthy foods such as fresh produce helps drive sales, said Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, N.Y.
“Every page in every newspaper you turn to, and everything you read in magazines, supports the produce industry like it never did before,” he said.
“Whether it’s 4,-, 5- or 10-a-Day, the bottom line is that our industry has the support of the medical professions, the schools and all the politicians. If nothing else, it’s going to help our industry and will make for a better educated public, which we have now more than ever before.”
Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc., said some of the schools are becoming more involved in procuring specialty produce items.
He cited interest in baby squash and blood oranges.
“You’re seeing it more and more in the schools,” Badalamenti said.
“The schools more than ever are focusing on kids eating healthy. One week, they have blood oranges they make the kids try. Another week, a customer orders starfruit. They’re educating the kids and they also talk about where the food comes from. The schools’ partnering with the food industry also helps us. They’re replacing the vending machines with salad bars. Pretty soon, there will be a health bar in every school.”
Thomas Cignarella, president of Morris Okun Inc., agrees with the trend of healthier foods in schools.
“They’re definitely changing what kids are eating,” he said.
“They’re trying to promote healthy foods and snacks instead of the cupcakes, cookies and all the junk food. We are seeing that type of change in the schools. Even the fast-food industry is changing their ways of serving healthier products. They’re reducing sizes so people don’t eat as much.”
Joe Granata, director of produce for RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J., said consumers’ interest in boosting their produce consumption is still increasing.
“The more our ethnic background changes and the customer profile changes in this country, the more produce people will eat and buy,” he said.
“You get Europeans, Mexicans and the whole ethnic mix where produce is a big part of those diets. You can just see it especially go into Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. It’s incredible how the produce flies off the market shelves.”
The economy affects produce movement, said Hugh Colocott, vice president of sales for Natures Best Produce.
“Clearly, the economy has definitely slowed but people have to eat,” he said.
“Fruit and the healthy foods, those are the last things people might cut. That and weather affects the movement of fruit. If it’s really warm, people don’t necessarily think of apples, but think of grapes. We can keep moving fruit, the fruit that’s hot. The weather really affects people’s fruit buying habits.”