The Boston-area retail grocery and restaurant industries are thriving, wholesalers say.
Attendance at a Northeast foodservice show Henry Wainer went to in mid-March was as high as it’s been in a decade.
If that’s a sign of things to come, the region should be in for a good summer, as restaurants continue to bounce back from the recession, said Wainer, president of New Bedford, Mass.-based Sid Wainer & Son.
“We’re cranking along very nicely and hoping for another good season,” he said.
Both channels have been performing well for Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, Mass., said Maurice Crafts, salesman.
“We’re pleased with both foodservice and retail,” Crafts said.
“More of our business is foodservice, but they’re doing equally well.”
Some of Coosemans’ big sellers, like avocados, hydroponic lettuce, fingerling potatoes and radicchio, do well at retail and foodservice, Crafts said.
Others, such as spring mix, are a better fit for foodservice because of packaging limitations.
“We do the 3- and 4-pound packs, but not clamshells” on spring mix, Crafts said.
The Boston-area restaurant industry, after a fallow period, seems to be in good shape now, Crafts said.
“The last couple of years, it may not have been the case, but they seem to be doing fine now,” he said.
“Everyone’s confident that things are getting better.”
More and more, Crafts sees area chefs shopping on the terminal market. And new restaurants have started opening in Boston again.
The retail and foodservice sectors have felt the effects of an economy that is still sluggish, despite recent employment and other news to the contrary, said Steven Piazza, president and treasurer of Everett, Mass.-based Community-Suffolk Inc.
Everyone’s looking for value, Piazza said. If a good deal pops up, Boston-area grocery stores and restaurants are all over it, he said.
High-priced or even normally priced items are another story.
On the retail end, many area stores are running “Wacky Wednesday” promotions (or less colorfully named weekend versions of the same thing) to move big volumes of staples consumers can afford, Piazza said.
In foodservice, many area restaurants are running price-fixed menus to keep costs down, he said.
That belt-tightening trickles down to the wholesale produce level.
Constant promotions are once again a hallmark of the Boston-area retail grocery market, said Richie Travers, treasurer and secretary of Chelsea-based Travers Fruit Co.
“It’s like it was in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s,” he said. “It’s a big part of the whole deal now.”
Promotions tend to run on a weekly cycle, Travers said. One week there might be big demand for grapes, the next berries, the next pineapples.
“They keep moving around,” he said.
About 75% of the sales made by Chelsea, Mass.-based The Alphas Co. are retail, said Yanni Alphas, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
That said, the foodservice business in Boston is still a thriving one.
“I see the restaurant business as active,” Alphas said.
“They went through a real rough time in ’08, ’09 and the beginning of ’10, but they all seem busy now.”
On the retail side, meanwhile, the Boston-area grocery industry is thriving, Alphas said.
Of particular note in 2011 was the addition of Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans to the Boston mix.
The chain opened a store in the fall and has two more planned.
Alphas won’t be surprised to hear of plans for more beyond that.
“They’ve done a great job,” he said.
Wegmans’ reputation for being produce-friendly is well-earned, Alphas said.
The company has noticed strong demand from the retailer across the board for its products.