ST. LOUIS — New locally grown apple varieties, strong tropical sales and value-added produce are among the industry trends in St. Louis.
Apples are among the evolving categories in locally grown production in the St. Louis area, said Steve Wielansky, partner in Independent Fruit & Produce.
“We do a lot of goldens, reds and jonathans, but we’re starting to see more and more varieties. We’re starting to get local galas.”
Fujis and other varieties are among the other apples wholesalers like Independent are starting to see coming out of local orchards, Wielansky said.
Dan Pupillo Jr., president of Midwest Best Produce Inc., said watermelons remain the mainstay of his company’s business. But other commodities are coming on strong.
“In the past two years, the most growth for us has been in mangoes and limes,” Pupillo said. “They were small-end items, now they’ve become mainstays in the company.”
National advertising and marketing campaigns have helped get the word out about commodities like mangoes, generating the demand that companies like Midwest Best have been more than happy to supply.
“Mangoes had been an unknown,” he said. “Five years ago we were loading partial loads. Now it’s multiple loads per week of a single product.”
On the fruit side, berries continue to be a very strong category for St. Louis retailers like William A. Straub, said Greg Lehr, produce manager.
The trend for many other commodities is convenience, convenience and more convenience, Lehr said.
“It’s the age of quick and convenient. Bagged salads, cherry tomatoes instead of rounds for salads, because you don’t have to get the knife out.”
Within the tomato category, heirlooms also are on an upward trend, Lehr said.
Single sales of peaches, apples and bananas also are a trend at retail, Lehr said. Microwaveable green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables are another one.
Also on the convenience side, Straub’s produce departments continue to enjoy strong sales of its pre-made salsas, kabobs, stir fries, cut fruit, fruit salads and other items.
The apple category continues to be an innovative one for Straub and other retailers. In July the store featured a large Kiku apple display front and center, with a chart showing Kikus at the top of the sweetness scale.
Avocados continue to gain market share every year, Lehr said.
Straub sources most of its avocados from Mexico, and some come from California. The retailer has transitioned from size 60s to size 48s as the dominant size profile, Lehr said.
The price is higher, he said, “but people want the big serving.”
With food safety scares of recent years starting to fade, melon sales are up, said Dale Vaccaro, owner of distributor Vaccaro & Sons.
“Melon consumption — on all varieties — is up,” he said.
Cilantro, basil and other herbs also have sold well at Vaccaro & Sons this year.
“It seems like herb consumption has taken off,” Vaccaro said.
Local might be the No. 1 buzzword of the age, but “convenience” isn’t far behind, said Steve Duello, produce category manager for Chesterfield, Mo.-based retailer Dierbergs Markets Inc.
“Anything that’s value-added, ready to consume, is becoming a bigger and bigger deal,” he said. “People don’t have time to cut their own watermelon or whatnot.”
One of Dierbergs’ partners on the St. Louis Produce Market, United Fruit & Produce Co. Inc., provides fresh-cut watermelon for the retailer, Duello said.
Dierbergs does its own fresh-cut cantaloupe, honeydew and fruit medleys in-house, he said.
Sal Pupillo, co-owner of H.R. Bushman & Son, said his company’s roster of produce staples doesn’t change much from year to year, but he has noticed an uptick in sales of a particular potato variety.
“Golds are big now,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff coming and going.”