Ohio produce suppliers say buyers want local produce because it’s fresh and they like supporting local economies. Consumers also like knowing exactly where their produce comes from.
Tom Sirna, president of Sirna & Sons Produce, Cleveland, said the biggest trend for his company this year has been the continued growth of local produce sales.
In 2008, Sirna & Sons’ sales of local produce reached about $200,000. This year, Sirna said he expects sales of local produce to climb to more than $1 million.
Local produce has been important in fine dining restaurants for a while, but it also is trickling down to casual dining, Sirna said.
Sirna & Sons distributes fresh produce within a 350-mile radius of Cleveland and services a wide range of foodservice buyers, including fine dining establishments, hotels and sports venues. The company’s largest-volume local items are peppers, squashes and tomatoes.
The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2011” survey of American Culinary Federation members found that sourcing local produce — even growing it in a restaurant garden — is among the top 20 trends.
“Customers want local,” said Erv Pavlofsky, principal of business development for ProduceOne, Dayton, Ohio.
“It’s a hot trend, and it’s not going away.”
Sourcing from nearby growers provides a way for restaurateurs to work with local growers and help support local economies, said Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications for Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association.
Chefs and their customers also like being able to enjoy produce that was harvested on the same day, he said.
“More guests want to know where their food is coming from,” Clabaugh said. “A lot of them will ask chefs where they source the meat, vegetables and fruit from.”
One example of an Ohio restaurant that focuses on fresh local items is the Northstar Café, Columbus.
The restaurant opened in 2004, operates three locations in Columbus, and sources locally produced organic and artisan foods, according to its website.
ProduceOne promotes local produce through its Buy Local, Buy Fresh website, www.buylocalbuyfresh.net, launched last year.
In partnership with Cleveland-based Premier Produce Co. Ltd., ProduceOne continues to develop its local program, Pavlofsky said.
Pro*Act’s food safety initiative for locally grown produce helps ensure that ProduceOne’s products are produced safely, he said.