As The City That Never Sleeps is considered the food capital of America, demand for specialty and organic produce remains strong.
Demand for specialty produce items remains strong, said Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc.
Coosemans distributes up to 450 stock-keeping units of specialty produce items with 100 or fewer SKUs being shipped to its foodservice customers on any given day, Badalamenti said.
Any type of kale, including baby kale and lollipop kale, sees strong demand as well as microgreens and watercress, he said.
Television cooking show chefs using specialty items prompts consumer and chef interest in adding specialty items to menus, Badalamenti said.
Still, the segment sees some variations in movement.
“This year sales reminded me of 2012,” Badalamenti said. “Specialty sales are a little less. They’re not as busy as the year before. Sales were much better in 2013.”
The volume of items that were once considered specialties has increased and some items, including microgreens, haven’t completely rebounded from sales declines experienced when the recession hit in 2008, said Mike Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., New York.
“There’s a little more thought process going into the evaluation of the components going into the dishes and the finished dishes,” Muzyk said. “The price-conscious consumer has realized that food cost is critical and maybe a particular garnish might not have such a profound effect on the dish if it were missing.
“I don’t want to say specialty sales are down, but they’re just more strategically purchased.”
RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J., sells specialties to supermarkets.
Among those specialties are specialty citrus items, including sweet limes and pink and heirloom navels.
“Retail sales of specialties remain strong and we’re seeing good demand for specialties,” said Joe Granata, director of produce. “The specialties help draw customers. They purchase basic items as well as specialties. The economy hasn’t hurt them that much.”
Organic sales continue to boom in New York.
RLB is experiencing sales increases of up to 20%, Granata said.
“The demand is just continuing to grow,” he said. “Whole Foods and Fresh Markets, which are beginning to dominate the market — to compete with them, retailers are bringing in more organic items, the basic ones.
“A lot more retailers are getting into organics, and they’re bringing more into their produce departments.”
Muzyk agreed demand remains strong.
In 2008, many consumers wouldn’t pay $5 for two organic tomatoes when they could purchase five conventional ones for $2, he said.
The category has rebounded considerably since taking a dip with the 2008 recession, Muzyk said.
“Organics have been and are always driven at the retail level,” Muzyk said. “For whatever reason, the consumer pushing that cart down the aisle believes it’s a healthier product. It has bounced back and is getting even stronger.”
Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus N.J., said organic garlic is experiencing strong retail demand.
“The people that do look for it are willing to pay a little extra for certified organic product,” he said.
Auerbach’s peeled organic garlic is seeing strong sales as well as its 6-ounce vacuum packed bags that it has sold for years but only recently began seeing bigger movement, Klein said.
A.J. Trucco Inc., New York, distributes organic kiwifruit from Italy and New Zealand throughout the East Coast.
The importer is expanding the program to Chilean fruit, said Nick Pacia, co-owner and vice president.