Produce demand strong; regional deals fare well

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

Quaker City specializes in selling berries. Storey said he sees increased demand for strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

With New Jersey being so close, Philadelphia wholesalers every year eagerly await the start of regional produce deals and remain big buyers of The Garden State’s produce.

“New Jersey pumps out a lot of vegetables,” said Tom Curtis, president of Tom Curtis Brokerage. “That state has The Garden State moniker for a reason.”

Pinto Bros. Inc. sells New York-grown produce and has represented sales for three generations of New Jersey farmers.

“These regional deals are becoming more valuable,” said Todd Penza, salesman. “They seem to be more important these days. We are the middlemen for the farmers and have very strong commitments for their products.”

While many supermarkets dedicate sections to regionally grown produce, Penza said many restaurants are increasingly featuring regionally grown produce on their menus.

Curtis said West Coast volume often dips in July and August, and remains much smaller than the “free hand” those growers have October through June, before the various regional deals start production.

Because of encroaching development, for a time during the 2000s, a lot of New Jersey farming land became more valuable for real estate development than farming, Curtis said.

However, following the real estate decline, more land has reverted to agricultural use, he said.

Chip Wiechec, president of Hunter Bros. Inc., said another problem pressing regional growers involves input costs.

“There are fewer regional farmers, and fewer smaller ones,” he said. “They have been struggling over the last couple of years due to the cost of fertilizer. Those costs have been hurting a lot of them.”

Wiechec said sales of regionally grown produce have been increasing.

Hunter Bros. sells product grown in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and throughout the East Coast as well as Ontario-grown vegetables. 

Procacci sources regionally-grown produce from a wide geographic area, including Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, Ohio, Michigan, Canada and the entire eastern deal, including broccoli from Maine.

“We have a big East Coast network,” Maxwell said. “We look forward to this deal. It provides a nice boost.”


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