The Pacific Northwest always has been kind to the produce business, and it’s getting friendlier each year, fruit and vegetable wholesalers say.
“Lots of growth and consumption,” said Tom Brugato, chief operating officer of Portland, Ore.-based Pacific Coast Fruit Co.
The region’s two major markets — Portland and Seattle — appear to have weathered the effects of the 2008-09 recession, which bodes well for sales outlooks, Brugato said.
“People seem to be headed back to restaurants and grocery stores, and consumption seems up be up,” he said.
Sam Caruso, a partner in Caruso Produce Inc., Tualatin, Ore., described his company’s health as exceptional.
Listing the reasons was more complicated, he said.
“It’s pretty much across the board,” he said. “Higher prices have helped us a little bit. The freeze this winter created shortages that a company like ours was able to capitalize on.”
Promotion often is basic, because it need not be elaborate, with that kind of audience, said Dale Hayton, sales manager at Valley Pride Sales, a Mount Vernon, Wash.-based grower-shipper.
The best way to promote fresh fruits and vegetables in the region is to let their colors work for them, said Tom Lively, senior salesman with Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co.
“I think it’s just kind of the same old techniques we’ve always used — having beautiful displays, lots of color breaks, try to be aggressive with your customers, look at them eye to eye, ask what you can do to help them and have your associates be as informed as possible,” he said.
Timing is a big part of success in the region, said Doug Huttenstine, executive vice president of sales with Seattle-based Charlie’s Produce.
“It is a combination of being first to market, showing new variety of items, and being in front of the customer as often as possible to show them the product visually and sample for taste,” Huttenstine said.
He also said it is vital to have strong merchandising and support sales staffs.
Lively described the Pacific Northwest as a bit different from other regions, in terms of shopper preferences.
Promotions naturally center on locally grown product, said Ernie Spada Jr., owner of Duck Delivery and United Salad Co., Portland.
“Obviously, this time of year the local theme is a big deal,” he said.
He said cherries and apricots are among the first items to hit the market, with peaches and nectarines not far behind.
“The ‘L-word’ definitely stimulates sales pretty good, but in the end, it’s all about running hot ads and giving them a number they can afford,” Spada said.
A growing awareness about nutrition is feeding sales, and that figures into promotions, Spada said.
“We see lot of people are eating better and healthier, so promoting the health aspect of it all is getting quite a bit of traction,” he said.
Ray Iannielli, owner of Tacoma, Wash.-based wholesaler Evergreen Fruit & Produce, said nearly all of his business is on the foodservice side, and he noted expectations are a bit different there.
“For the most part, they don’t use the fruit, but they will buy the lettuce and strawberries and what they can use quickly,” he said.
Locally grown berries are big sellers, he said.