Geography, ethnicity, income and other factors influence retail produce trends across the Southwestern U.S., just as they do throughout the rest of the country.
Phoenix, however, is different from some other Southwestern cities because it often serves as a test market for retail trade and other industries.
“There’s just about every (retail) concept you can imagine here (in Phoenix),” said Greg Reinauer, senior vice president of Amerifresh Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Reinauer said Phoenix has an array of retailers that focus on diverse concepts, including the Hispanic or Latino market (Bashas’ Food City; Pro’s Ranch Markets), the smaller bulk food store (Sprouts Farmers Market), the fresh and natural market (Whole Foods Market), and the neighborhood store (Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market). There are several Wal-Mart Stores concepts — Sam’s Club, Neighborhood Market and Supermercado de Walmart — in the area, as well as gourmet markets, such as Bashas’ A.J.’s Fine Foods.
Any of those retailers might choose to feature local produce in their stores.
“Wanting local produce is very, very big,” said Barry Zwillinger, partner in Legend Distributing LLC, Glendale, Ariz.
“We’re aggressively working to lead that … in some of the items that we’re looking to get into growing on our local farms.”
Some retailers are aggressively looking for locally grown produce, and Legend is working with its retailer customers to feature more local items.
“I expect in two years it will be a big part of our business and the fresh produce business in Arizona,” Zwillinger said.
He said he knew of a couple of retailers who have space dedicated to local products. He declined to name the retailers, but said one has about 15% of the space throughout its store committed to local products, including produce. Consumers in Arizona can find local vegetables during the winter, but that’s not the case in El Paso, Texas.
El Paso consumers don’t have much interest in locally grown produce because it isn’t a crop-producing area.
“It’s basically desert,” said Nick Delgado, owner of Quality Fruit & Vegetable Co. in El Paso.
New Mexico, however, grows lettuce, chilies and onions, and consumers there do support local growers, Delgado said.
“Especially the way the economy is today,” he said.
Marketing local produce is a newer strategy in the Southwest, said Willie Itule, owner of Willie Itule Produce Inc., Phoenix.
Itule said he thinks locally grown produce is more popular now because it can be more affordable and because retailers are using local as part of their marketing strategy.