Economic pain lingers for Chicago produce merchants

12/10/2010 02:54:21 PM
Bruce Blythe

Many retailers are buying fresh produce on a hand-to-mouth basis, said TJ Fleming, vice president of vegetables with Strube Celery and Vegetable Co.

Strube, like many of the Chicago terminal market’s merchants, relies on retailers for the majority of its business.

“The economy forced them to change their buying patterns,” Fleming said of retailers. “They don’t have to fill coolers any more. They’re not going to overbuy. They’re letting themselves run out, not buying as freely as a few years ago.”

Some merchants see brighter days in 2011, citing increasing transportation costs among signs the economy is improving.

Steve Loulousis, a sales manager with Michael J. Navilio & Son Inc., said he expects sales to rise 10% next year as his company boosts shipments and targets high-growth ethnic food markets.

“Everybody here on the terminal market, we’re all pursuing the same people,” Loulousis said. “Everyone is very price conscious today. It’s tougher to pass higher prices through. To make a profit, you have to move volume. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on.”


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