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

Economic factors have made things even tougher, and vendors have had to adapt, New said.

“You definitely have to get creative,” he said. “We’re trying to be more diversified. We’re working on a wine distributorship.

“It’s all about packages, so you’ve got to have the package count on the trucks. We started carrying dairy the last two or three years. We do a lot of proprietary items for a lot of the chains.”

The company also distributes bottled water, New said.

“It’s not the way it was 30 years ago, where you get by selling a couple of boxes of tomatoes or a couple of boxes tomatoes and making $6 or $7 a stop,” he said. “It’s all about packages. We sell everyone from the big retail guys to other produce companies.”

New said his company also has a long-established tomato program, which has helped.

“We’re real proud of our tomato program here. That’s kind of where we shine,” he said. “We distribute tomatoes to a couple of wholesalers on the L.A. market. We’ve had to kind to change with the times to try to beat it.”

Things have improved in the last year, New said.

“In 2009, that was probably the toughest year we’ve seen; 2010 bounced back pretty good,” he said. “In 2011, it was real close to 2008 numbers, which was a good year.”

The company’s best years likely were 2006 and 2007, New said.

“But ’09 kind of took the wind out of everybody’s sails, and it’s been a bounce-back ever since then, so we kind to think out of the box and try to separate yourself from everybody else, and that’s kind of what we’ve done.”

Randy Workman, general manager of Coosemans Phoenix LLC, described the market as “a little slow” in 2011.

“The whole year as slow, but it’s been picking up a little bit,” he said. “I expect the next year to be a little off.”

Economic factors are the source of the sluggishness, Workman said.

“The economy has affected it a lot,” he said. “Before, people were more interested in quality. Now they’re more interested in prices, and it’s really affected it a lot.”

Coosemans focuses on specialty items, and Workman said his company is trying to bring in more mainstream items, as a hedge.

“We’re trying to add more items, so we can keep in the flow of business,” he said. “Especially with the economy down, people are doing more chain restaurants now.”

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