Boston produce distributors see big potential in locally grown - The Packer

Boston produce distributors see big potential in locally grown

03/25/2011 12:36:27 PM
Susie Cable

Produce distributors have a wide variety of perspectives on locally grown produce. Some say it’s important to support local growers, and they say consumers are demanding local produce. Others say they don’t get any requests for it.

Henry Wainer, president of specialty produce distributor Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., said he’s seen a big change in the Northeast region, with major foodservice companies supporting local agriculture.

A greater interest in local produce from culinary schools and students, as well as their focus on grower accountability, traceability and environmental practices, make it potentially profitable for a large distributor to build serious relationships with local growers, Wainer said.

In the past year, Sid Wainer’s sales of locally grown tree fruit have quadrupled. The company grows about 200 experimental crops on its Massachusetts acreage.

It then works with other growers to teach them how to produce the successful crops, Wainer said. At the same time, it promotes those crops to chefs, in hopes of guaranteeing growers a strong market.

Wainer said he wants to support small growers so they can succeed in their communities.

Ed Ring, co-owner of Ring Bros. Wholesale, South Dennis, Mass., called locally grown a hot button issue. Ring Bros. distributes produce to southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, Mass.

His customers want local produce whenever possible. Ring Bros. offers locally grown vegetables, cranberries, peaches, tomatoes and apples.

Ring has worked with about 10 local growers over the years. Supply is sometimes too inconsistent for his wholesale business. He can sell small, inconsistent volumes the Ring Bros. Marketplace retail operation, though.

Miami-based Infinite Herbs & Specialties LLC’s Everett, Mass., location carries locally grown basil, cilantro, parsley, mint and bok choy, said Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development. The company is establishing more relationships with local growers in the region.

Ruma’s Fruit & Gift Basket World, Everett, ships 70,000 to 100,000 pounds of fiddleheads from early May to late June each year, said Jim Ruma, owner.

The fiddleheads are grown in western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Canada, so they are local to customers in the Northeast region. Ruma’s plans to carry wild Maine blueberries in August for a third season. Each year the deal gets bigger, Ruma said. The blueberries will ship in cartons of 12 1-pint clamshells.

Chelsea-based Coosemans Boston Inc.’s buyers ask for locally grown produce when it’s in season, said Maurice Crafts, salesman.

Many ask for local tomatoes and salad mixes. One item that Crafts experimented with last year was Solstice Salads, which were packed in Maine.

Solstice Salads was an organic line of spring mixes, spinach and romaine.

The deal didn’t last long because the supplier changed its business direction and is now packing for another organic spring mix supplier.

Crafts said there was demand for the product, and he would be interested in carrying another local salad line.

Other market merchants said local produce is not a factor in their businesses.

Frank Lisitano, president of Lisitano Produce Inc., Chelsea, said his company doesn’t carry much local produce, and Community-Suffolk Inc., Everett, doesn’t look for locally grown produce to buy, said Steven Piazza, salesman.

Richie Travers, partner in Mutual Produce Inc., Chelsea, doesn’t carry local produce because it’s not a big deal for Boston.

Local growers in the area more often sell their produce at farm stands or go directly to chain supermarkets, instead of selling to distributors, he said.



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