Minnesota may not be the nation’s produce capital, but locally grown and organic fruits and vegetables are popular with residents of the Twin Cities area.
“Local produce has a very definite presence — when it’s available,” said Jeff Nagel, sales manager, East, for Russ Davis Wholesale Inc., Wadena, Minn.
“Minnesota has a vibrant summer season for local product,” he said.
The locally grown trend is especially beneficial for Russ Davis Wholesale because the company has five distribution centers in three states — Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin — making it easier to procure product in areas closer to where more consumers reside.
G.O. Fresh Inc., a Minneapolis-based fresh-cut processor, buys local produce when possible, said Mary Lou Owen, owner and chief operating officer.
By sourcing locally, the company supports its neighbors and provides fresher product for its customers, said Brent Beckman, sales and marketing director and Owen’s son.
However, because of the large volume of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and other commodities the company uses, local growers often are unable to meet the firm’s needs, he said.
For conventional retailers and distributors, with local produce, the strong co-op movement in the region is bad news.
“We get crushed by it,” said Kevin Hannigan, executive vice president at J&J Distributing Co., St. Paul, Minn.
The company can lose up to 40% of its business when local product is in season, he said.
Even if a company wants to buy from local growers, it’s not as simple as calling a farmer down the road and placing an order, Owen said.
“We need to make sure suppliers have signed on and follow safety procedures,” she said.
Although larger growers usually have strict food safety programs, the concept is a new one for some small local growers, she said.
G.O. Fresh is inspected regularly by government agencies, customers’ quality assurance specialists and third-party inspectors, she said. The company even has its own in-house lab.
“We take this very seriously,” she said.
The company does not process organic produce, but it has implemented an organic-approved wash system, Beckman added.
Organic produce is a popular commodity in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area
“There’s more awareness than ever,” Hannigan said, adding that the category continues to grow throughout Minnesota.
“Every retailer has organic,” he said.
Since J&J Distributing buys and sells organic produce daily, it seems like organic accounts for much more than the 5% to 10% of produce sales, he said.
“It’s still a fraction of the food supply.”
Of the 1,800 stock-keeping units that Russ Davis Wholesale handles, about 200 are organic items, Nagel said, including full-case and split-case options.
The recession caused the growth of the category to moderate or to stagnate in some areas, he said. But growth has edged back into the double-digit range for the past two years.