Tourism helps some Florida fresh produce suppliers

02/24/2013 06:59:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

TAMPA, Fla. — Tourism is Florida’s biggest industry and the state’s location provides distributors access to customers in neighboring Caribbean countries.

Positioned within 150 miles of many Caribbean islands, south Florida distributors distribute produce to island and Central American customers.

“For us, exports have been a boon and a great growth area,” said Bruce Fishbein, partner with Miami-based The Produce Connection Inc.

The Produce Connection distributes containers of produce to 15 countries.

Export sales aren’t as strong as before for Freedom Fresh LLC of Miami, said Walter Vazquez Jr., chief executive officer.

“All of these countries in the Caribbean and in South America and Central America, they’re very reliant on the U.S. and tourism in general to support them.”

Sunrise Produce, Jacksonville, sells to Caribbean customers through containers shipped from the Port of Jacksonville.

“Exports are a very strong segment of the business,” said Abbey Deckman, sales manager. “It’s a very good situation because the customers pick up, we don’t have to deliver it.”

Business recently increased a little after Hurricane Sandy disrupted operations of some northeastern-based exporters, Deckman said.

Tourism, particularly in Orlando amusement parks, remains depressed, said Ernie Harvill, president of Orlando-based Harvill’s Produce Co.

“It’s kind of leveled off,” he said. “It really went downhill pretty bad at the beginning of the recession.”

The Tampa Bay economy is strongly dependent on tourism, distributors say.

“Tourism has been down for the last few years,” said James Killebrew, vice president of Tampa-based Baird Produce Inc., which distributes throughout the state.

“People are still reeling from the fall back of the Gulf Oil spill. It hasn’t recovered. We also don’t have the same number of snowbirds coming to visit.”

Coosemans Tampa Inc., Tampa, sells to jobbers that serve the state’s booming cruise ship business.

“That business seems to be doing well,” said Justin Warren, general manager. “Business is strong. They order a lot of specialties. We’re seeing more orders from those servicing the cruise ships.”

Warren said one of his employees recently returned from a cruise and said the ship was packed with people.



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