ST. LOUIS — Several St. Louis distributors and retailers report continued strong demand for organic fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sun Farm Foodservice continues to see steady growth in its organic program, said John Pollaci, president.
Sun Farm saleswoman Danielle Camp, who oversees the category, said she sources at least 60 organic fresh fruit and vegetable items. Apples, oranges and head leaf lettuce are some of the big sellers.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Pollaci said. “We’ve had to dedicate half a cooler to it. She brings in a ton.”
Of course, a “ton” is relative, he said, but there’s no doubt the category is here to stay for Sun Farm.
“The percentage compared to conventional (is still small), but we look to grow it each year,” he said.
In late 2011, Camp started getting more interested in organics, which led her to establish a close relationship with organics leader Earthbound Farm.
One big seller in the St. Louis area has been a 2-pound clear, recyclable Earthbound bag for arugula and baby spinach.
It used to be Sun Farm would source organic only when it was ordered, Camp said. Now the company keeps an inventory on hand.
“We sell anything and everything you can think of.”
Demand peaks in the winter, she said.
Fresh-cut has been a big draw in the organic category, Camp said. Cut fruit for shish kabobs for wineries and other clients, and cut onions and potatoes for caterers have been among the popular sellers, she said.
Camp also works with a local organic grocery/cafe, the Local Harvest Cafe, on sourcing organic produce.
Organics will have more shelf space in the revamped produce departments at retailer William A. Straub, said Greg Lehr, produce category specialist.
Department facelifts are set to begin later this summer.
Vegetable items have traditionally been the big organic sellers for Straub’s, but the fruit category is surging, Lehr said — one in particular.
“Berries have really taken off,” he said. “We’ve dabbled in organic fruit in the past, but now we have more of a set program.”
Through Indianapolis-based Caito Foods Service, Straub’s sources organic kale, zucchini, yellow squash, cabbage, tomatoes and other vegetables from an Ohio-based Amish farming community, Lehr said.
Steve Duello, category manager of produce for Chesterfield, Mo.-based Dierbergs Markets Inc., said organic has enjoyed steady growth over the past 10-15 years.
“We’re not talking leaps-and-bounds growth,” he said.
The company’s perception of organic, however, has changed more dramatically.
“We no longer think of it as a necessary evil,” Duello said.
“We all used to look at as, ‘More shrink, more to manage, the costs are high.’ We’re to the point now where the prices are more comparable, and sales are good.”
Young people are the target audience for organic, and those young people are Dierbergs customers for the next 20-30 years, Duello said.
H.R. Bushman & Son, a broker on the St. Louis Produce Market, sources organic potatoes out of its Golden, Colo., office, but at its St. Louis headquarters, the company is sticking to conventional, said Sal Pupillo, co-owner.
“You can’t be everything to everybody,” he said.
“With organics you have to be really careful about cross-contamination.”