Similar to an Atlanta Braves baseball game on a hot summer night, local produce remains a hot ticket on the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga.
Being close to produce growing operations in south Georgia and South Carolina helps Atlanta wholesalers procure product without long truck journeys.
Distributors say interest in local and regional produce continues to grow.
“We are seeing more demand for it,” said Andrew Scott, former sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Atlanta.
“It’s becoming more popular. We are seeing a lot of our area retailers doing a great job cross-merchandising the local produce. They use photos of the actual farmers and tell shoppers where their peaches and squash are from.”
Scott said local works well for General Produce because the distributor ships its produce by trucks it runs throughout Georgia.
The backhauling of southern Georgia fruits and vegetables, including watermelon and Vidalia onions, helps save on freight, he said.
Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. LLC, Atlanta, said the supermarket chains and foodservice purveyors he sells to are always wanting local, particularly when Georgia’s season begins.
“The start of the Georgia season kicks it off pretty well,” Gregory said.
“Over the years, more and more restaurants are wanting it. We have bought a lot of product for many foodservice companies. They want to go the fresh route instead of the frozen. Local is helping.”
David Collins III, president of Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., Forest Park, Ga., characterizes the local produce interest as a fun thing.
“We are seeing more and more people wanting that,” he said. “They’re investing in it too. Look, if you can get local, they’re trying to push that.”
Collins said Phoenix defines local as anything within its realm of distribution, which includes most of Georgia and parts of Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Backhauling produce from those regions helps the distributor and its customers, he said.
Chefs are expressing strong interest in local, said Robert Poole, junior partner and vice president of sales for Athena Farms in Forest Park.
“It’s like with organics, where everyone likes to talk about it,” Poole said.
“We have to be smart. Even if we don’t get more money for that product, the reality is, it may be easier to make the margins better on local product though we’re not putting a premium on it. If we can highlight it as an added value for our customers, it will be a win for everyone.”