Cool weather delays local deals, but quality good

08/15/2013 10:53:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — Local produce deals may be a bit late this year, St. Louis distributors and retailers say, but better late than overexposed to the heat, as happened last summer.

Local fresh fruit and vegetable programs were off to a late start this summer for Sun Farm Foodservice, said president John Pollaci.

“It’s slow to start — too much rain,” Pollaci said July 15. “It’s either been too hot or they’ve had too much rain.”

Sun Farm’s main local supplier is Maryland Heights-based Theis Farms, Pollaci said. Baby head lettuce, tomatoes (including heirlooms), cucumbers, zucchini and squash will be among the top items Sun Farm sources this year.

A cooler summer has been good for Sun Farm’s popular local lettuce deal, Pollaci said.

“Usually lettuce ends quickly. It burns up,” he said. “But it’s been milder this year. Our customers really like it.”

The lettuce Sun Farm sources locally is similar to the Tuscan head lettuce it gets throughout the year from Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros., Pollaci said.

The only drawback is that the local deal doesn’t complement the California deal as much as Sun Farm would like.

“Unfortunately it cannibalizes it a bit,” Pollaci said.

In addition to its Theis Farms vegetable deals, Sun Farm sources from other local growers, including blackberries from Illinois.

Despite Sun Farm’s success with its local programs, Pollaci said it can still be tricky at times.

“By the time you tell people it’s available, and by the time they order it, some small farmers are already out of it,” he said. “It’s hard to do wholesale local. We’re still working on it.”

Green leaf, spinach, spring mix, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, green peppers, grape tomatoes, watermelons, peaches and cantaloupe are among the big local sellers for Vaccaro & Sons Produce, said owner Dale Vaccaro.

Tomatoes are among the local items Vaccaro & Sons’ customers demand when they’re in season.

“It’s what the consumer expects this time of year,” he said. “The quality’s better.”

Vaccaro & Sons has longstanding relationships with four St. Louis area growers that supply the company with local summer produce. A 200-mile radius covering southern Missouri and southern Illinois typically describes the company’s working definition of “local.”

“Every year it picks up,” he said.


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