NEW YORK — Though it isn’t as tough to maneuver the streets of suburbia with their delivery trucks compared to the island of Manhattan, selling produce to customers in the many suburbs remains difficult, distributors say.
“I think it’s even harder in the suburban areas,” said Benjamin Friedman, owner of Riviera Produce Corp., Englewood, N.J.
“There will be some sweet spots where one to two people in a certain town will be doing the business, but some of the people who have been around for 10-15 years are losing new business to places opening up that might have a trendy chef.”
Riviera distributes produce to high-end and white-tablecloth restaurants, hotels, caterers, country clubs and institutions throughout the tri-state area.
Retail competition is also heating up, distributors say.
“With all the competition between Fairway Market, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the Aldi’s, there are all these competitors that have come in here,” said Joe Granata, director of produce for RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J.
“Plus, there are all the other general trading stores. All these places are just popping up. It’s gotten so competitive.”
Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, N.Y., said the suburbs such as the eastern end or northern shore of Long Island offer pockets that host concentrations of wealthy people.
“Those pockets still seem to be doing well,” Panagakos said.
“The east end does very well during the summer months and the northern shore of Long Island does well throughout the year. People will sit down at certain restaurants and spend $60-70 without thinking twice. On the flip side, there are chain restaurants very busy with the $10 dinners.”
Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J., characterized retail sales as consistent.
“Retail and foodservice is very steady,” he said.
“We have had a larger growth in our foodservice segment but that was because it’s a more developing industry for us. In the last five years, foodservice has caught up to be a very significant part of our business.”
Auerbach sells a full line of bulk and packaged specialty produce, garlic, asparagus, potatoes, snow peas and radicchio.
Ray Hernandez, a buyer for Coosemans New York Inc., characterized the 2011 holidays as the most difficult season the specialties purveyor ever experienced.
“I think people are more reserved and aren’t going out (to dine) as much,” Hernandez said.
“December was one of the slowest I’ve seen in a long time. The weather was great for November and December. With weather like that, people tend to go out and do more dining, but we haven’t seen that in the restaurant trade.”
Hernandez said he thinks shoppers focused more on electronics and gift spending.
Coosemans trucks specialties imported into airports in Miami and other areas.