Supermarket business holds steady in Tri-State region

02/28/2011 03:10:25 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Though sales to the foodservice segment have declined, some wholesalers say retail sales have kept pace.

Supermarkets and the metropolitan area’s many green grocers rely on the Hunts Point Terminal Market for supplies.

The terminal market focuses on the smaller and medium-sized independent retail chains.

Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., and co-chairman of the Hunts Point Terminal Market, said retail sales are holding steady.

“Retailers are doing fine,” he said. “When money gets tight, people tend to turn to cooking at home. To me, it’s a retail-enhancing event if money gets tight and foodservice declines. People want to stretch their dollars. I have seen very few green grocers go out of business.”

D’Arrigo noted how 7-Eleven plans to open 20 stores in the New York area.

“There’s very little in the retail world that concerns me or would give me concern that there’s something up,” D’Arrigo said. “That is where all the value is, in retail.”

Carlos Garcia, general manager of Krisp-Pak Sales Corp., New York, said sales to the segment appear strong.

“I know some who have independent stores, like the Korean supermarkets, or have very large stores, and they are fairly busy,” he said. “If you have the right place and set yourself up well and do a good job, you’re busy year-round. Sales are definitely strong in retail. Everyone wants to cook his or her own food. People still go out to eat but not as much as they used to.”

Richard Cochran, president of Robert T. Cochran & Co. Inc., New York, said he hasn’t noticed any significant changes in grocery store purchases.

“It’s just ho-hum. Nothing exciting,” he said. “You ask them how business is going, one will say bad, and the other says OK.”

Fresh-cut sales remain strong in the region.

RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J., which processes product through its FreshPro processing division, has seen strong demand for fresh-cut products, said Joe Granata, director of produce.

“We had a record year last year,” he said. “Our fresh-cut business has expanded incredibly.”

Granata said fresh-cut has been one segment that has grown significantly as RLB does more processing for companies that prepare meals for large chains.

Fresh-cut sales, however, weren’t as strong in 2008 and took a big hit during the recession, Granata said. He said buyers were reluctant to pay $2-3 for 8 ounces of cut cantaloupe and would instead buy whole fruit.

Retail growth remains strong, Granata said. He said the segment has seen about a 5% increase in 2010 compared to previous years.

The segment isn’t experiencing overwhelming growth but respectable sales, Granata said.

“There are two telltale areas in the supermarkets,” he said. “Floral sales have been strong and seafood is also good. People who don’t have extra cash won’t spend the money on floral, a fringe item. If people feel good and have a few extra dollars, they’ll buy both seafood and floral. When you see sales there go well, then you’re seeing a turnaround.”

Interest in locally grown produce is also driving retail sales, said Joel Panagakos, executive vice president of J. Kings Foodservice Professionals Inc., Holtsville, N.Y.

“There’s a local push at retail,” he said. “The local piece is challenging to them. When we say local, we mean really local, like Long Island, not some 250-mile radius.”

Apples grown in upstate New York and mushrooms from Pennsylvania are some of the items that can be sourced within 150 miles, Panagakos said.

“The retailers we deal with want their stores in Long Island to sell Long Island produce,” he said. “That’s unique.”

J. Kings distributes fresh-cut items to retailers.



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