Wholesalers report decent performance in down economy

11/03/2009 02:15:00 PM
Cynthia David

“Then in August and September it was so dry that growers had to work harder and use irrigation.”

“In the end, we lost 25% of the crop,” Plante said. “Unlike last year, however, we couldn’t raise prices to cover the shortfall because the stronger dollar restricted exports. I don’t know if Barack Obama’s ‘buy American’ message made a difference, but it was very tough.”

Then the weather turned unseasonably cold.

In early October, as he looked over the broccoli fields owned by Les Productions Margiric in Laval, Quebec, Mario Cloutier was shaking his head.

The crop desperately needed warmth to grow to harvest size.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll get half the 325,000 boxes we’d planned,” said the marketing director. “And we had so many peppers that boxes we normally sell for $10 were selling for $6, below the cost of production.

“It’s going to be a strange ending for a strange season,” Cloutier said, “and we thought 2008 was the worst. It’s the same story for all the growers.”

The one bright spot for growers, perhaps, is that Quebec chain stores are all committed to promoting local products in season.

“It’s good for us,” said Valerie Grenier, sales and marketing director for Savoura greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers in Portneuf, Quebec.

The company is now waiting with baited breath to see how prices will fare when Mexican production gears up this month.

“We hope they won’t go as low as last year,” said Grenier.

Organic outlook

When it comes to organics, the jury is all over the map.

“There’s a growing demand for organics, but the price is out of the consumer’s reach,” said Eric Landry, vice president of CDS Brokers Inc.

But though there are no major volumes now, CDS is aggressively sourcing products for the future, convinced that sales will rise in the next five to 10 years.

Montreal organic pioneer Gaetan Bono said the economic downturn has made it a difficult year.

“People are buying as cheaply as possible right now and they don’t want organics,” said the central market wholesaler. “Sales to retailers, distributors and fruit stores are slowing down, not growing. We’re bringing in the same amount, but we’re working harder to sell it.”

At the foodservice level, Benoit Lecavalier, director of sales and development for produce at foodservice supplier Hector Larivée, said organics aren’t selling and he doesn’t get many requests for it, even from top chefs.



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