Buyers seek out fresh-cut, specialties

08/03/2012 10:56:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — Fresh-cut and specialty items are among the categories trending upward for St. Louis produce wholesalers.

Avocados continue to be a big seller for Sun Farm Foodservice, particularly since its 2011 hiring of Juan Sanchez, a salesman who specializes in Hispanic items, president John Pollaci said.

Instead of ordering avocados by the case, like the company used to, pallets are the more common unit of volume, Pollaci said.

In addition, buyers have now made avocado sourcing easier for Sun Farm, Pollaci said.

“They used to want them shipped perfectly ripe. Now they take them at all stages, which we appreciate,” he said.

Other recent big sellers for Sun Farm include arugula, herbs, asparagus, French beans, baby squash, baby and heirloom mix lettuces and new variations on spring mix, such as Tuscan mix, Pollaci said.

Even iceberg, which has fallen out of favor in recent years, has seen a comeback at Sun Farm, thanks in large part to Sanchez’s hiring, Pollaci said. Many Hispanic buyers like chopped iceberg, he said.

Micro-greens also are a growing category for Sun Farm, Pollaci said. Because of their fragility, they’re overnighted by air on a regular basis.

Fresh-cut and convenience foods are big sellers for William A. Straub, a four-store chain, said Greg Lehr, produce category specialist.

Fruit salads, cut pineapple, veggie kabobs, fresh salsa and guacamole are among the category stars for Straub’s, Lehr said. All items are prepared onsite.

The company’s entire apple category is doing well, he said, with Honeycrisps and fujis among the top performers. Citrus sales at Straub’s also have been strong this year.

Straub’s offers its customers niche items they can’t find elsewhere, Lehr said. Peaches from Gold Bud Farms, for instance, are flown into St. Louis from California when they’re in season, he said.

For the Dierbergs retail chain, which has 24 stores in the St. Louis area, new apple varieties are among the biggest trends in the produce department, said Steve Duello, produce category manager for Chesterfield, Mo.-based Dierbergs Markets Inc.

Honeycrisps, SweeTangos, Jazz and Ambrosia are among the big sellers, he said.

The chain also is devoting more shelf space to value-added produce, Duello said. Cut watermelon and other fruit are some of the more popular fresh-cut items.

Custom-packed items are a strong seller for Vaccaro & Sons Produce, owner Dale Vaccaro said. Broccoli, baby potatoes and grape and cherry tomatoes are among the top sellers.

“We do a lot of veg overwraps, oddball vegetables,” Vaccaro said. “We custom pack for the stores we deliver to.”



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