Trends are translating into sales at major produce markets in Ohio — Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus — according to fruit and vegetable suppliers.
Cleveland is enjoying a rebirth in its downtown area, thanks in part to a thriving restaurant scene, said Mark Mithalski, a buyer with Sirna & Sons Produce, based in Ravenna in the outskirts of Cleveland.
“There are a lot of trendsetters here,” Mithalski said.
That translates to sales, he said.
“We always try to get something new that comes out to a customer who wants to be the first to have something,” he said.
But there’s more to Cleveland’s produce business, said Vince Sirna, vice president of Sirna & Sons.
“I think it’s a combination of restaurant chains and a huge influx of enterprising and very creative chefs that have opened up,” Sirna said.
The renaissance has been fueled by a number of factors including a downtown casino, Sirna said.
“It’s been kind of a sleeping giant for a long time, and you’re seeing a lot of independent restaurants opening up downtown because of the excitement that’s being created down there,” he said.
Columbus, the capital, also is home to Ohio State University, one of the largest institutions of higher education in the U.S.
The city also was scheduled to open a casino and in May added slot machine-like gambling to its racetrack. A new Hilton hotel is scheduled to open in October, as well.
“Columbus is a strong market,” said Jim Sanfillipo, partner and sales manager with Sanfillipo Produce Co. Inc., a Columbus wholesaler.
So is Cincinnati, which is stays apace with the latest national trends in produce, said Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of the Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Group, which marked its 116th anniversary in business this year.
“You’re seeing people eating healthier across the country, and Cincinnati is no different there,” he said.
The Cincinnati market, like its sister cities across Ohio, is benefitting from more product choices than ever, Schuler said.
“Maybe there’s a bit of a difference in demographics, but by and large, it’s a national market,” he said.
He also noted that the Queen City consumers, like their counterparts across the state, are hungry for locally grown products.
Gentile Bros. Co. has been operating in Cincinnati for 130 years. This year, a new owner, Jeff Oaks, came in and brought Rick Schimpf as chief financial officer.
Oaks said he has noticed customers have shown a strong preference for locally grown produce.
“This past summer, there was a large emphasis on homegrown, mostly vegetables, and that has increased throughout the years,” he said.
The company is looking for more sources of local product, Schimpf said.