Produce demand strong; regional deals fare well

09/08/2009 04:53:55 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

PHILADELPHIA — Despite difficult economic times, produce distributors in the City of Brotherly Love remain optimistic that demand and sales will continue.

They also rely heavily on regional produce deals that begin during mid-summer and run through early fall.

“The only problem I see, at least on our end, is that with the economy being the way it is, some of the specialty items, not tropicals, but items like raspberries, we sell some but are selling fewer now,” said Mark Levin, co-owner of M. Levin & Co Inc. “People don’t have to have raspberries, which many consider a luxury item. Certain items fall off because of that luxury status.”

Levin’s bananas and tropicals business, on the other hand, has taken its turns but remains steady in sales, he said.

Levin said he has noticed that shoppers are increasingly turning toward more durable produce — items such as apples, bananas and oranges — that can hold up well in children’s lunchboxes.

Preparing for tougher economic times, Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. in April released a line of prepackaged fruit and vegetables that targets price-conscious shoppers.

Procacci’s value-packed program, which includes up to 40 items custom-packed to retailers, features produce overwrapped in plain wrappers with no branding except to say “value.”

Mike Maxwell, president, said the distributor hasn’t downgraded grade and condition, but has only lowered sizes to make packages more consumer-friendly.

Children, the elderly and people on fixed budgets look for smaller-sized produce and value packs, he said.

Grocers don’t have to sell extra large or jumbo-sized bell peppers or the larger-sized apples when medium or smaller sizes can increase movement and reduce retail prices, Maxwell said.

Retailers can sell 88-size apples for $1.29 or can put three smaller apples in a tray and sell it for 89 cents, which more mothers should pick up, he said.

“We are adding value to the people that are price-conscious,” Maxwell said. “You have to think backwards all the time. What do consumers want and how can we get it to them at what price point? How can I make my retail and make money in the process for myself and for the grower? It has to go back to the farm.”

Jimmy Storey, president of the terminal association and president and owner of Quaker City Produce Co., said retail sales vary with the economy and interest in health.

“People are looking to eat a little healthier,” he said. “With all of these promotional programs they have in the schools as well as the Produce for Better Health, all of this has to be helpful to our business.”


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