Fresh produce business in Southwest begins recovery - The Packer

Fresh produce business in Southwest begins recovery

01/03/2012 11:11:00 AM
Jim Offner

Few metropolitan areas took bigger hits from the recession than Phoenix and Las Vegas. The worst appears to be over, however, according to produce wholesalers in each city.

“I think the housing market has kind of bottomed out a little bit,” said Willie Itule, owner of Willie Itule Produce, Phoenix.

“I think that’s been a key player in the economy, and I believe once we hit that bottom and start to make that slow, gradual trend up, you’ll see more and more restaurants sprouting up here in Phoenix and in Arizona, and I think that will be very good for the business.”

Itule’s company has a heavy emphasis on restaurants and institutional foodservice, and he said he has seen indications of a rebound by glancing at those sectors.

“I think, for one thing, people are finding ways to eat out,” he said. “Restaurants are becoming more creative, and I believe portions are being cut down a little bit, but the prices have become more attractive. So the consumers are going out and getting good bang for the buck.”

The hangover from a recession that saw once-booming housing and construction sectors collapse is still being felt, said John French, owner of Phoenix-based Produce Brokers of Arizona.

“The economy seems a little on the sluggish side. Everybody is hoping for growth next year,” French said.

Produce vendors have felt the effects of the downturn, which began to hit with its full force in 2008, French noted.

“It has impacted business greatly,” he said. “The construction boom is gone, so all the construction workers are gone. All the stores got to be down.”

John New, president of Phoenix-based Grand Avenue Produce, said the market is as “tough as ever.”

“Phoenix is tough. It always has been,” New said. “We have the second and third generations of the family working here, and this business has been tough for the 36 years I’ve been doing it, and it’s no different today than it was 36 years ago. It’s just a tough, tough market.”

There is an upside, though, New said.

“The good thing is, we’re basically in a great spot,” he said. “We’re close to the winter Yuma deal. We’re close to Nogales market. We’re a day from Salinas. Phoenix is a great spot, but it’s a tough town, because a lot of shippers kind of treat Phoenix like L.A. in that they try to use it as a dumping ground. From a buyer’s standpoint, you’ve got to be very, very careful who you deal with.”


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