Some distributors report strong specialty sales, others not

03/31/2010 11:29:23 AM
Andy Nelson

CHELSEA, Mass. — While the economy may be better than it was a year ago, according to many wholesalers on the Boston wholesale markets, it still hasn’t returned to pre-recession strength.

Nonetheless, many wholesalers are reporting strong demand for higher-priced specialty items — though some continue to stick with staples.

“We’re still selling a lot of fingerlings, baby beets, French breakfast radishes,” said Maurice Crafts, salesman for Chelsea-based Coosemans Inc.

Or take the company’s foodservice microgreens packs, which are moving briskly, even at $22 a pack, Crafts said. The company also sells a “ton” of foodservice spring mix, he said.

On the fruit side, Coosemans continues to see strong sales of meyer lemons, Crafts said.

Other wholesalers, however, may not be seeing the same strong demand for specialties that Coosemans is, he said.

“Maybe some of the bigger guys who delved into it aren’t doing as much,” he said.

With the economy still in a slump and consumers still focused on value, Everett-based Community-Suffolk Inc. isn’t putting much energy into specialties, said Steven Piazza, salesman.

“Our philosophy has been to focus on staple items and good value, instead of venturing into fields we don’t know,” he said. “We’re in preserve-and-protect mode.”

Potatoes, onions, celery, broccoli and lettuce are among the company’s top-selling veg staples, Piazza said. Margins may be higher on some specialty items, but to Piazza, it’s volume that counts.

“I’d rather make $1 (per item) on 100 items than $5 on 10,” he said.

Chelsea-based John Cerasuolo Inc. doesn’t sell organic, and there’s a good reason for it, said Ken Cavallaro, the company’s treasurer.

“It’s hard to get the right organic product,” he said. “It has to be high-quality or it’s worthless, and it seems to be hard to get high-quality.”

BC’s Rocco is another who has no plans to get into organics, though the company does cross-dock them.

The reason, he said, is simple.

“Our customers aren’t asking for it.”
 
To survive in today’s economic climate, you have to focus on what you do best and not try to diversify too much, said Tom Ciovacco, co-owner of Mutual Produce Inc.

For Mutual, that means staying away from specialties like fresh-cut or other value-added fruits and vegetables.

“Those customers are the ones hardest hit,” he said. “When you have someone cut your fruit for you, it’s a luxury.”

In the summer, Mutual Produce often adds some exotics into its product mix, but that business has declined also with the recession, he said.

That said, Ciovacco is considering branching out and adding personal watermelons to the line of cantaloupes and other melons he sells.



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