DALLAS — After a tough 2009, many Texas businesses hunkered down and rode out 2010. With that behind them, 2011 looks promising.
“Since July 1, we’re right at double-digit growth for the first six months of our fiscal year,” said Bill Sewell, director of produce for Fort Worth-based Ben E. Keith.”
In Houston, Brothers Produce established a modest plan for growth in 2008 and stuck to it, said Martin Erenwert, chief executive officer.
“We had a very good business model going in to that year, and we’ve done exactly what we said,” he said. “Even with this down economy, we’ve still been able to grow.”
Finding new ways to service existing customers, such as adding bagging capacity or value-added, was part of this plan, he said.
For Sysco Houston Inc., sales have recovered in the wake of the recession, said Leonard Hymel, vice president of merchandising.
“They’re not back to what we were before, but we’ve had a few good months so far,” he said.
Brett Combs, vice president of sales for Combs Produce LP, said while Texas has been spared a lot of the fallout from the recession, it’s still a competitive market.
“We’re fighting every day to continue to grow our business, like we always have,” he said.
Bill Kellner, chief operating officer of San Antonio based Murphy Tomatoes said the company continues to see its foodservice business grow.
While some sit-down restaurants might have had a rough year, fast-food and value-conscious chains were steady.
“At least for us, chain business picked up,” he said. “We have been in our new facility for over a year new, and we’ve better than tripled our volume.”
Retailers targeting the Hispanic population are seeing a lot of growth in their business, Combs said.
Several in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have cropped up over the past couple of years, including El Rio Grande, El Rancho and Super Plaza.
Fiesta Mart Inc., owned by Grocers Supply Co., Houston, also expanded its presence when it bought 11 of Minyard’s stores, including the Hispanic Carnival banner in 2008.
Harold Callaway, partner in Trans Pak Produce Inc., said he’s seeing a lot of growth in the Hispanic sector as well.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing segments of retail,” he said.
Callaway said he’s seeing a lot more growth in the value-oriented sector and believes consumers will continue down that path.
“I think the high-end stores are going to continue to have slower growth,” he said. “The value-oriented stores … are where the growth is.”
Trans Pak also caters to local neighborhood co-ops, where families get together and buy in bulk.
If there’s been one thing that has shaped the way distributors do business over the last several years, it’s food safety.
Who you buy from, how you build or renovate your facility and how your keep your records are all dictated by food safety.
“Food safety has been one of our most important strategic initiatives for the past 10 years,” Combs said. “We go through multiple third-party audits and only buy from vendors that meet our criteria for approval.”
Brothers Produce recently completed renovations to its facility at the Houston Produce Center.
“All of this was based on improving food safety,” said Erenwert said.
Hardie’s Houston also is working on renovations to its facility with food safety in mind, said Liz Moser, director of sales and marketing.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been working on this year,” she said. “We’re right in the middle of doing renovations as well. We did a lot of it when we got ready for our last audit.”
Any company wanting to do business these days has to keep on top of food safety.
“The public, news and media pay a lot of attention, and are more aware of it,” she said. “We have to stay ahead of the curve and keep moving.”