Demand for locally grown in the heartland rises

09/09/2011 02:45:00 PM
Andy Nelson

OLATHE, Kan. — Produce distributors in Kansas City and Des Moines continue to reap the benefits of locally grown programs.

Foodservice supplier Sysco Kansas City is emphasizing its marriage of locally grown and food safety with new labels.

All boxes of the company’s Missouri- and Nebraska-grown vegetables now feature a sticker with a GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) seal, said Pat Cipolla, director of produce marketing. The stickers were introduced in late August.

Sysco Kansas City started its local program four years ago. All of the company’s suppliers must be GAP-certified, Cipolla said.

The company’s main locally grown supplier, a Mennonite community in Rich Hill, Mo., is believed to be the first Mennonite grower community in the country to achieve GAP certification.

Sysco sells more and more local product every year, and that trend will only continue in its current direction, Cipolla said.

“We haven’t even really scratched the surface yet,” he said.

“I get more calls on locally grown than on anything, especially this time of year.”

Sysco has so many customers, it must supplement its locally-produced fruits and vegetables with product from farther away, Cipolla said.

But demand for local is growing at such a fast pace, he thinks that one day in the near future, there will be peak periods where all of a certain commodity will come from local sources.

Sustainability and supporting the local economy are viable reasons for supporting locally grown, but you can’t deny the appeal of better flavor, Cipolla said.

One commodity in particular comes to mind.

“Tomatoes,” he said. “When you taste them side by side, you can tell the difference — by far.”

Squash and cucumbers are other big local items for Sysco.

Demand for locally grown has never been higher than it’s been this summer for Kansas City, Kan.-based Liberty Fruit Co., said Scott Danner, the company’s chief operating officer.

Foodservice demand in particular is stronger, he said.

“There’s a been a big change at restaurants,” Danner said.

Liberty Fruit also has seen an uptick in its business supplying local companies with locally grown fruits and vegetables for in-house “farmers markets” for its employees. Kansas City, Mo.-based health care technology giant Cerner is one of the bigger examples of this practice.

Danner expects locally grown demand to grow even more in coming years.

Most of Liberty Fruit’s locally grown product comes from Amish growers in Missouri, Danner said. Peppers, squash, eggplant, sweet corn, tomatoes and potatoes are among the big sellers.

The company also sources ample volumes of Missouri-grown watermelons, musk melons and other melons in-season, Danner said.

Also riding the local wave is Norwalk, Iowa-based Capital City Fruit Inc., said Brendan Comito, the company’s chief operating officer.

“The demand for locally grown is tremendous,” he said. “We’ve added some growers and products.”

Capital City works with about 25 growers in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois and offers about 25 items, Comito said.

Watermelons, sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, squash and eggplant are among the big sellers.

New items this year are green beans, yellow meat watermelon and onions.

Local has become so big for Capital City, the company has an employee dedicated solely to the program, Comito said.

Among other tasks, he works with growers on planting schedules and getting up to speed on food safety protocols.

Locally grown volumes also continue to rise for Des Moines, Iowa-based Loffredo Fresh Produce Co., said Gene Loffredo, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

With five distribution centers spread out throughout the Midwest, Loffredo Fresh Produce can source from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri or Wisconsin, depending on what’s closest, Loffredo said.

Corn, potatoes, squash, cabbage and cucumbers are among the company’s biggest locally grown sellers.



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