For Balitmore and Washington, D.C., wholesalers distributing in the heart of the Eastern Shore and the DelMarVa regions, local produce is a hot ticket.
During the summer, the region hosts numerous farm stands where local growers sell produce to shoppers with big appetites for the local product. July and August remain the bigger months for the largest volume of regional produce, distributors say.
“There’s never a day that doesn’t go by that local isn’t brought up in some conversation,” said Roy Cargiulo, sales manager of Keany Produce Co., Landover, Md.
“It’s probably the single biggest topic.”
The big initial push for locally grown remains the universities and elementary schools, Cargiulo said.
As most educational institutions aren’t in session during the local summer produce season, Cargiulo said it becomes a challenge to make sure distributors such as Keany remain involved with them on local sourcing.
“How do we keep increasing the amount of local produce?” Cargiulo asked.
“How do we market it so our customers are aware of what we have and when we have it? We’re educating them that they need to embrace it and take advantage of it when it’s in season.”
Ross Foca, president of East Coast Fresh Cuts, a division of Savage, Md.-based Coastal Sunbelt Produce Co., called local a growing trend.
“It’s the hottest item out there now, whether in restaurants or in retail,” he said.
Foca said East Coast and Coastal Sunbelt work closely with local farmers and help them plan what to grow. The company has connected growers with retailers and distributes their products to foodservice customers.
He said East Coast and Coastal Sunbelt have some foodservice clients who demand as much local grown as possible throughout the year, whether greenhouse grown or items that grow during the late fall or early spring.
“Local is the key now,” Foca said.
Local remains a big buzzword, said John Gates, president and founder of Lancaster Foods Inc., Jessup, Md.
“It’s very much in fashion right now because there are tremendous and good reasons for it,” he said.
“It’s mostly because of the price of fuel and not having to truck product from all the way across the country.”
Gates said Lancaster sources regionally grown produce such as Maine broccoli. He said that region’s growers do well with broccoli and said he sees more customer calls for Maine broccoli.
Acknowledging the demand for local produce, Sal Cefalu, vice president of Jessup-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc., said food safety practices become a concern.
Local produce grown in the Mid-Atlantic typically runs from June through the region’s first freeze, which normally strikes in October.
“We can’t get enough of it,” said Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc. Washington, D.C.
“Everyone wants local produce. Retailers are doing more merchandising of it and most of the year, demand exceeds what products are available.”
Pappas sources greenhouse product. He said many growers are constructing hothouses so they can offer local produce throughout the year.
The Tony Vitrano Co., Jessup, has in the past sourced some regional produce, primarily from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but in recent years has increased its offerings, said Tony Vitrano, president.
He said the distributor handles more of the product now because of customer demand.