In parts of the Southwest, as in other parts of the U.S., the homegrown produce deal is short, but produce suppliers in the region say they’re working to get all the local product they can find.
Arizona shippers, such as Legend Distributing LLC, Glendale, Ariz., say they are working to take full advantage of Arizona’s winter vegetable deal, in both conventional and organic items.
Legend says it has launched a major commitment to Arizona-grown product.
“We really are expanding and branching off into some pretty exciting directions for 2013, and we are really going to expand on local-grown,” said Barry Zwillinger, a co-owner at Legend Distributing.
It’s what many customers want, Zwillinger said.
“I’m going to some of the largest restaurant chains and independent restaurant owners in Arizona that are going to this healthy approach, and I’m saying, ‘What items are you looking for that are local grown?’” Zwillinger said.
The company is launching a new label, Four Peaks, dedicated specifically to homegrown items, Zwillinger said.
The established Legend label will be retained outside the local program, Zwillinger said.
For the local program, the company is offering conventional and organic product grown primarily in Vicksburg, Ariz., he said.
It’s a nod to the way things used to be, he said.
“Our fathers came out West, and they worked with a lot of these items that were grown locally in smaller scales, and now we focus on how to continue the quality and produce it for less,” Zwillinger said.
Legend Distributing brings in product from nearly 4,000 acres, although no acreage figures yet were available for the local program, Zwillinger said.
“Legend is going to take the scale of focus on local items and grow them for the foodservice and retail trade here in town,” he said.
It’s local product for a specific area around Phoenix, he said.
“We’re not looking to be the size or scale to handle the whole country, but we do want the local market,” he said.
Legend was on track to fill two new sales and marketing positions by the first of the year and already had hired 30-year industry veteran Lance Nichols to fill one of the slots.
Nichols came to the company after eight years as general manager of Del Monte’s distribution center in Phoenix, Zwillinger said. Nichols also had been a retail buyer for retailer Safeway.
“Lance is going to be working directly on our local grown direction from the farm here in Vicksburg (Ariz.), with our vegetables and introducing them into the retail and foodservice trade here in town,” Zwillinger said.
Legend hadn’t finalized its estimate on volume of local product for the upcoming season, Zwillinger said.
He did say the program would include squash, zucchini and other vegetables to start.
Other suppliers are answering the call for local product.
“I think more and more restaurants are putting the local on their menus, and we’re now in the height of our growing season here in Arizona,” said Willie Itule, owner of Willie Itule Produce Inc., Phoenix.
The limitations of the season do present certain problems, said Stacy Wilson, sales and marketing director for Just the Best Ltd. Co., a Santa Fe, N.M.-based wholesaler.
“The locally grown market in New Mexico is definitely increasing, but there’s not enough production for me to participate,” she said.
Utah is in a similar situation, said Murray Harris, sales manager at Condies Foods, Salt Lake City.