Produce distributors tap into nearby greenhouse production

11/15/2012 04:57:00 PM
Jim Offner

Less than 40 miles down the road from Detroit are potential profits under glass — or plastic.

The Leamington, Ontario, greenhouse vegetable industry floods the Motor City with a range of vegetables produced in controlled environments.

“It’s fantastic, no question,” said Nate Stone, chief operating officer of Detroit-based wholesale distributor Ben B. Schwartz & Sons Inc.

One of the best parts of the Leamington industry is the control growers have over the quality of the product, since it’s all grown indoors, Stone said.

Terry Grooters, manager of a Ken’s Fruit Market store in Grand Rapids, said Ontario greenhouse growers provide a steady supply of high-quality produce.

Where possible, Grooters said, his store will carry field-grown tomatoes, since Ken’s focuses sharply on Michigan-grown produce, but the Leamington district is a good backup.

“They do well,” he said.

Price sometimes is an issue, however, said Tom LaGrasso, owner of wholesaler LaGrasso Bros. Inc. in Detroit.

“There’s always a premium on having the right quality, right price for your customers,” LaGrasso said.

Timing sometimes is another factor, LaGrasso said.

“We’ll deal with growers out of there. It just depends on the time of year and the quality, where we’re going to be sourcing stuff from, but we will pull products from there,” he said.

Most Detroit dealers do, and proximity to the product is one reason, said Michael Badalament, salesman with R.A.M. Produce Distributors, a Detroit wholesaler.

“They have to move product, and they’ll send it here so it doesn’t make the ride,” he said.

Quality typically is no problem with the greenhouse product, said Jeff Abrash, owner of Detroit-based wholesaler Andrews Bros. Inc.

“I don’t know about elsewhere in Michigan, but it’s a very available commodity in the Detroit market, and the quality is excellent and allows us to receive product that basically was picked yesterday,” he said.

Abrash agreed having Leamington’s greenhouse district so close is an asset.

“There’s usually some pretty good product sold that appear to be pretty favorable prices to the consumer,” he said.



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