Retail, foodservice retain high demand for fresh produce in Baltimore area - The Packer

Retail, foodservice retain high demand for fresh produce in Baltimore area

08/01/2011 10:22:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Baltimore and Washington, D.C., wholesalers, who distribute produce in an area so heavily reliant on the federal government, characterize retail and foodservice movement as strong.

John Gates, president and founder of Lancaster Foods Inc., Jessup, Md., said the stability provided by the federal government gives the region an edge over other U.S. areas.

The District of Columbia is the only housing market that has improved over everywhere else, he said.

Consequently, that has helped distributors such as Lancaster serve retail and foodservice customers.

“Foodservice business is very good,” Gates said.

“The restaurants are doing well. It’s a competitive environment. They’re doing better than they were, though.”

Gates uses that same description to characterize the region’s retail sales.

Lancaster, which distributes produce warehouse to warehouse for independent retailers and foodservice purveyors, has seen a 10% increase in business over last year, Gates said.

Tony Vitrano, president of the Tony Vitrano Co., Jessup, said he thinks the restaurant trade is surviving.

“Foodservice is probably off a little, but it’s not as bad as it was two years ago, but still not as strong as it was,” he said.

“Overall, foodservice is probably stronger in D.C. than in Baltimore.”

Jason Lambros, vice president of purchasing for Savage, Md.-based Coastal Sunbelt Produce Co. and East Coast Fresh Cuts, said the foodservice sector remains consistent.

“The restaurants seem to be adapting quickly by adding some value items to their menus,” he said.

“Creative specials and limited time offers help get people excited and move traffic back in the door, but it’s certainly not easy.

“Everyone has to knuckle down but we are faring better than other regions.”

Because people still want fresh foods and desire to eat healthier, Lambros said he thinks retail and foodservice demand should remain strong.

Sal Cefalu, vice president of Jessup-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc., said he’s noticed a change in consumer spending habits.

“Rather than buying something at the department store that they may not need, people are using their extra spendable income at restaurants,” he said.

“Though they’re not spending as much as they did five years ago, they would still do something to have a good night out. I’m seeing a diversion in that they may be going to less expensive places or they’re not spending as much at the expensive places.

“They’re changing the patterns of what they’re doing as they will be eating somewhere.”

Cefalu said he sees supermarket sales remaining fair, too.

“Foodservice seems to be holding up,” said Dave Goodman, president of Sid Goodman & Co. Inc., Jessup.

“You have busy weekends, then they have slow weekdays, like everyone else.”

Gus Pappas, president of Pete Pappas & Sons Inc., Washington, D.C., said he thinks retailers are enjoying greater sales because more people are dining at home.

“We have once again seen resurgence in the staple items, the nuts and bolts produce,” Pappas said.

“Yet, the grocery chains have limits on what they can do. If they have a late truck or a rejection on their end, they have to replace it. They definitely have a floor and a ceiling price as to what they will pay.”



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