Specialties, short-season items help boost sales

05/21/2014 02:56:00 PM
Jim Offner

Ruma Fruit and ProduceCourtesy University of VermontFresh fiddlehead ferns are a specialty offering from Ruma Fruit & Produce. Other wholesalers say limited-quantity items such as heirloom tomatoes are selling well. Niche services and unique items can be produce sales drivers in Boston, wholesalers there say.

Ruma’s Fruit & Gift Basket, based in Everett, Mass., specializes in fresh fiddleheads.

“That’s what we do in the spring,” said Jim Ruma, president.

Sales have been stable enough to offer the product in new packaging this year, Ruma said.

Ruma also has gotten into the specialty service realm, answering last-minute calls from stores that come up short on certain items, he said.

“When stores run out of product, we do a lot of direct deliveries of products that they’re missing that day. That’s our niche,” he said.

Specialty items are gaining traction, said Henry Wainer, president of Sid Wainer & Son, a New Bedford, Mass.-based wholesaler and grower.

“Right now, especially in the produce market, they’re adding leafy greens, dried fruit and spices,” Wainer said.

That trend transcends the produce category, Wainer said.

“It’s everything that goes with it to prepare a healthy dish,” he said.

Retailers are responding by showcasing a variety of specialty items, often together, Wainer said.

“There’s so many things going on, there’s a lot more cross-merchandising than there’s ever been before, and it’s allowing the produce directors to get better revenue out of their departments,” he said.

For Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, Mass., specialty items are a focus, but certain items that have a high-nutrition cache are taking off, said Maurice Crafts, salesman.

“Baby kale is doing well,” he said, citing one example.

In the tomato category, heirloom sales appear to be booming, suppliers said.

“The ramp-up seems to be unbelievably huge in the production of heirlooms,” said Peter John Condakes, president of Chelea-based wholesaler Peter Condakes Co. Inc.

He said his company offered heirloom tomatoes for the first time in 2013.

The heirlooms come with a price. One is oversupply, Condakes said.

Competition is another, said Steven Piazza, salesman and president of Community-Suffolk Inc., Everett, Mass.

“People are always willing to find new varieties of tomatoes, and they’re coming out of the Ontario area,” he said.

The additional supplies are “putting a real damper” on the gas-green tomato business, he said.

“But it’s nice to have available a good-quality, good-eating tomato year-round,” he said.



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