Sales indicate recovery underway, suppliers say

10/30/2013 04:17:00 PM
Jim Offner

In a stabilized economy, produce dealers say they are more optimistic than they have been in several years.

Consumers and buyers remain somewhat cautious in their produce selections, Ohio wholesalers said.

“I think you have cautious people that, when they go out, they’re looking for value,” said Tom Sirna, chief executive officer of Sirna & Sons Produce in Ravenna, Ohio.

Sirna described Cleveland as a “blue-collar town” that was still struggling with unforgiving economic forces.

“To have a vibrant economy, you have to have the middle class spending money,” Sirna said. “Go back 10 years, and the middle class was doing well in Cleveland and they were going out.”

Now, shoppers are looking for good buys, Sirna said.

Buyers’ habits are reflecting a cautious time, too, said Anthony Arena, president of Columbus-based wholesaler Arena Produce Co. Inc.

Diners’ choices are more cost-conscious than they were when economic times were flush, said Jarrod Clabaugh, communications director with the Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association.

“Consumers are continuing to visit more fast-casual restaurants than they are full-service operations,” Clabaugh said.

That’s a result of concerns about the economy, wanting to see their dollars stretch further or simply having less disposable income, he said.

“Industry publications and trends reflect that Millennials continue to be drawn to more casual, order-as-you-go eateries versus sit-down establishments,” Clabaugh said.

Columbus-based wholesaler DNO Inc. has a revenue stream — schools — that serves as an economic buffer, said Tony DiNovo, president.

“The school thing has been the biggest we’ve had,” he said.

Sirna agreed.

“Colleges are really getting into ordering a lot of produce,” he said.

Columbus-based Sanfillipo Produce Co. Inc. is reporting record sales despite concerns about the economy, said James Sanfillipo III, a partner in the firm.

“When the economy was down, we figured we could stay really small or be super-aggressive, and just beat the street and tried to what nobody else wanted to do, like opening seven days a week,” he said.



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