Local continues to grow

07/16/2012 02:46:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Produce buyers and consumers alike continue to clamor for locally grown produce in the Los Angeles market, distributors say.

“The focus on locally grown continues to get stronger,” said Verne Lusby, president of FreshPoint Southern California in Industry, Calif.

“You’re seeing more of the mainstream customers trying to get into it.”

FreshPoint buys from almost 100 local growers in Southern California and distributes that product to foodservice customers on a weekly basis, Lusby said.

Fresh-oriented chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill are driving the local movement, but Lusby said high-end restaurants are some of the most fervent locavores, and often feature growers’ names on their menus.

Locally grown produce really ties back to food safety and tracking, said David Lake, president and chief executive officer of MCL Fresh Inc., Los Angeles.

“It’s one thing to know that it’s product of U.S.,” he said.

“It’s another thing to know exactly where it comes from.”

MCL Fresh supports retailers with identification and signage at store level so that they can advertise their product as local.

That’s not too difficult to do, he said, “because you know where everything comes from.”

Avocados, citrus and various vegetables are some of the commodities the company includes in its locally grown program.

Great West Produce Inc., Commerce, Calif., concentrates on California and the Southwest and sources most of its produce locally, said president Sean Villa.

However, Villa said it’s hard to define exactly what is local.

“I don’t think clear lines have been drawn on what locally grown means,” he said.

Progressive Produce Corp., Commerce, ships nationwide, but the company puts a strong focus on the locally grown aspect in Southern California, because many of the firm’s grower partners are based there, said Jack Gyben, vice president and partner.

Retailers have different approaches to locally grown, he said.

“If it’s important to them, we make sure we give them every opportunity to include our locally grown products into their merchandising,” he said.



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