CHELSEA, Mass. — Boston vegetable wholesalers are crediting Florida and its weather problems with an uptick in business in the first months of 2010.
Sales were down about 10% for Peter Condakes Co. Inc. in fiscal 2008-09, said Peter John Condakes, the company’s president.
Condakes would like to think 2009-10 is off to a better start, but he doesn’t know how much to chalk up to an improving economy and how much to Mother Nature.

“It’s hard to compare because of the freeze in Florida and the rain in Mexico,” he said. “I’m not sure how much is the economy, and how much the high-priced market.”

For instance, Condakes said, the last time the tomato market saw anything like the first quarter of 2010 was 21 years ago.
“It hasn’t been a sorta, kinda freeze, but one that’s knocked out everything,” he said. “We’re having to source tomatoes from where we don’t consistently source out of Mexico.”

So far, the company has been able to meet customers’ needs, Condakes said. But there’s no guarantee that won’t change in the near future.

“Fortunately, so far we haven’t had to cut orders or ration, but it could get there,” he said.

The winter weather hasn’t put a damper on business in Boston and the surrounding region serviced by Beantown wholesalers, said Maurice Crafts, a salesman for Coose-mans Boston Inc.

Boston wasn’t hit nearly as hard by the snow that paralyzed much of the East Coast midwinter, Crafts said. And the region actually has benefit from weather woes else-where, he said.
Sales of Maine-grown green-house tomatoes have been very strong for Coosemans this winter, a beneficiary of the Florida freeze, he said.

Frank Lisitano, president of Lisitano Produce Inc., also reported a better start to 2010 than to 2009. That’s due in part to the freeze in Florida, which has strengthened markets significantly, he said.

“We’re very busy now, trying to keep up, trying to keep our customers happy,” Lisitano said in late February. “Everything’s coming from Mexico now.”

It would likely be late March before shipments of Florida-grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables would return to normal, Lisitano said.

Those strong markets can get too strong, however, and turn customers off, he said.

Take green beans, which in late February were selling for $50 f.o.b., $55-60 after transportation and other costs are tacked on. When that costs gets passed on to con-sumers, they’ll choose frozen or canned over fresh, Lisitano said.

“They can make money at $25 or $30, they’re just being greedy,” he said.

The winter weather that wreaked havoc on much of the East Coast has mysteriously steered clear of Boston, keeping things business-as-usual for the most part, Rocco said.

“It keeps missing us,” Rocco said on a late March day on which schools were cancelled all around Boston, and on which a foot of snow or more fell in other parts of Massachusetts.

In Boston, however, it was 40 degrees and raining — typical, Rocco said, of the season as a whole.