St. Louis foodservice industry thriving

08/15/2013 10:41:00 AM
Andy Nelson

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis distributors report strong demand from restaurants and other foodservice channels.

Sun Farm Foodservice reports an uptick in demand from St. Louis area schools, said John Pollaci, president.

“We’ve delved a bit more into the school business,” he said.

Federal programs to bring more fruits and vegetables to the nation’s public schoolchildren have helped drive demand, particularly in lower-income schools in St. Louis, Pollaci said.

The trend has carried over to private schools, though Pollaci said he would like to see it accelerated.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done in private schools,” many of whom are hesitant based on cost concerns, he said.

Still, there are exceptions at the top end of the private-school food chain.

“Some of them eat better than I do,” he said.

As for the restaurant end of the foodservice spectrum, St. Louis is fairly stable, despite the loss of two independent restaurants that went out of business in the past year, Pollaci said.

“It’s pretty decent — we have the right amount,” he said.

It’s a workable model, Pollaci said, as long as entrepreneurs don’t get overzealous about adding new restaurants.

“If you add one, it’s going to cannibalize” existing restaurants, he said.

The St. Louis restaurant scene has been altered by the growth in chain restaurant business, said Steve Wielansky, partner in Independent Fruit & Produce, another wholesaler on the St. Louis Produce Market.

“It’s become such a chain-dominated market in St. Louis, which it didn’t used to be,” he said.

That change affects the city’s distributors, Wielansky said.

“It’s all contracts,” he said. “It cuts the middleman out.”

Strong ethnic communities, including the Bosnian community and the ever-growing Latino community, are among the factors driving restaurant growth in St. Louis, said Dale Vaccaro, owner of Vaccaro & Sons Produce.

“The restaurant business is thriving,” Vaccaro said. “There’s a good mix of people in St. Louis.”



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