The supermarket scene remains competitive, foodservice business is bouncing back and the buy-local movement appears stronger than ever in Minnesota’s Twin Cities market this spring.
Co-ops and farmers markets are giving conventional retailers — and their suppliers — a run for their money during the window when local produce is available, suppliers say.
Minnesota.com, a website of the state’s agriculture department, lists nearly 1,000 places in the state where consumers can find locally grown produce, including 158 farmers markets.
“There’s one in every community,” said Kevin Hannigan, executive vice president of J&J Distributing, St. Paul, Minn.
Another directory lists 42 food co-ops statewide — nine in Minneapolis and St. Paul alone.
“There continues to be a strong local movement,” said Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Wescott Agri Products Inc., Elgin, Minn.
For years, retailers have been trying to reduce food miles and use local crops, including apples, melons, tomatoes, pumpkins and sweet corn.
“They value the local produce initiatives,” Roper said.
Meanwhile, Cub Foods, a division of Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc., continues to grab the region’s largest share of supermarket sales, said John Dean, a Minneapolis-based supermarket consultant. Other players include Rainbow Foods, Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Lunds & Byerly’s, Trader Joe’s and Kowalski Markets.
Target appears to have completed its expansion in the Twin Cities area with its PFresh and Super Target stores, Dean said.
Neither Cub Foods nor Rainbow is doing much expanding, he said, but Wal-Mart continues to add stores “aggressively,” and Trader Joe’s is growing, too.
How well supermarkets are doing seems to vary by chain, said Jeff Nagel, Eastern sales manager for Wadena, Minn.-based Russ Davis Wholesale Inc.
Some of the company’s customers are experiencing an uptick in business, others remain stable and some others are in “challenged positions,” he said.
Russ Davis Wholesale had a good year last year, Nagel said, and he expects that trend to continue, especially since the company has added a new distribution center — its fifth — in La Crosse, Wis.
On the foodservice scene, with about 4,000 restaurants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, residents aren’t short on places to dine out.
After experiencing their worst years ever in 2008 and 2009, restaurants report their customer counts are starting to rebuild, said Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association in St. Paul.
In many cases, the amount of the guest checks have not rebounded to pre-recession levels, but suppliers say foodservice sales generally are strong.
“Business here has been pretty brisk,” said Clark Jacobsen, produce manager for Restaurant Depot, St. Paul. “It seems like all the restaurants are packed all the time.”
Minneapolis-based G.O. Fresh Inc. was able to weather the recession because the company does business with a variety of restaurants, said Marylou Owen, owner and chief operating officer.
While business fell off a bit at some fine-dining and mid-priced restaurants, sales were up at fast food places, she said.
Finally, social media is beginning to take hold in the Twin Cities market, especially among companies that deal with consumers.
“People are adjusting to change,” said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer at H. Brooks & Co. LLC, New Brighton, Minn. “They’re trying to find what’s going to be instead of what was.”