NEW YORK — Close to New Jersey and other major production regions, New York distributors capitalize on growing demand for local produce.
From late April to the end of October, growers harvest a variety of produce, including asparagus, corn, cucumbers, lettuce and leafy greens, potatoes and tomatoes.
“The local deal gives us a good five to six months of lots of items,” said Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, N.Y.
“There could be as many as 60-80 items we receive on a daily basis. It’s pretty involved. Supermarkets are looking for this product and shopper interest has helped it a great deal.”
Panagakos said J. Kings meets with the Long Island Farm Bureau to work on different programs to help farmers better market their products.
RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J., remains heavily involved in procuring and selling locally grown produce, said Joe Granata, director of produce.
Last summer, RLB conducted some farm-to-table local produce promotions for product grown within an 800-mile radius with its New York and New Jersey retail customers.
This season, it plans to bring in some of the growers into the stores so they can tell about their operations, Granata said.
“We are in the planning stages of going bigger into promoting local this spring and summer,” he said.
“We plan to really talk up the farmers and what they do. Consumers like that and they really feed into it — on the foodservice end, too, as restaurants are also looking to promote local product.”
Effectively working the local deal requires good relationships with growers, said Mike Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc.
Local demand remains strong, said Benjamin Friedman, owner of Riviera Produce Corp., Englewood, N.J.
“People are realizing it’s important to keep the land locally growing fresh produce for more than one reason,” he said.
“We have fewer miles traveled by trucks, and, therefore, less pollution. It’s a fresher and better-tasting product.”
Friedman said Riviera has supported local produce for two decades.
Another longtime supporter, Natures Best Produce, buys big volumes of regional product, particularly upstate New York apples.
“Local is a big buzzword,” said Hugh Colocott, vice president of sales.
“A lot of stores want to buy local. The public feels more comfortable buying local. Some stores want the product packed in their own bags, which makes the local issue a little murky. It’s harder for consumers to determine if the fruit came from upstate New York, Pennsylvania or Michigan.”
Mike Cochran, sales manager and vice president of Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc., said the distributor doesn’t see many requests for local produce.
“If it’s good quality, they buy it,” he said. “They don’t buy it just because it’s local.”
Chris Armata, president of E. Armata Inc., agrees.
“In my opinion, customers want good product,” he said. “They don’t necessarily care if it comes from Holland, Long Island or California.