Chicago merchants struggle as fresh produce costs surge

12/12/2011 10:45:00 AM
Bruce Blythe

Retailers also are trying to hold the line of rising costs amid growing competition for cash-strapped consumers.

Bob Scaman, who runs Goodness Greeness, a Chicago-based organic supplier, said promotions have become a much more significant aspect of retailers’ business.

“Price points” for customers “are a bigger issue than I’ve ever seen,” Scaman added. “There’s tremendous sensitivity to prices at these points.”

Produce inflation is expected to ease slightly in 2012, according to government forecasts, and Chicago merchants say relief also may be ahead amid an outlook for stronger production.

“We’re cautiously optimistic” for 2012, Lobraco said. “A lot of our suppliers say we’re going to have good crops next year. We’ll see an influx of apples, grapes, pineapples.”

Next year’s prices will hinge partly on winter weather, Testa said, and if growers can avoid many of the problems they had last season, “we’ll be fine.”

Testa also said the recent inflation offers an opportunity for the produce industry to grab more of the consumer food budget, because price gains for chops, steaks and other meat cuts have outstripped those for most other foods, making fruits and vegetables more appealing by comparison.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for the people in the produce business to get a bigger share of the dining plate,” Testa said.


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