Warmer weather, but still a cool economy in the Twin Cities - The Packer

Warmer weather, but still a cool economy in the Twin Cities

05/25/2010 02:03:00 PM
Ashley Bentley

A warmer-than-usual spring has given Minnesota fruit and vegetable suppliers a look at the bright side.

“It’s been great, the first year I’ve been excited to be in Minnesota in March,” said Adam Gamble, general manager of North Country Produce, a subsidiary of Russ Davis Wholesale, Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

The weather cooled off to a more typical damp coolness in late April and early May, but nevertheless, the state got an early start on spring with snow off the ground weeks before usual.

“People tend to buy a little more fruit when the sun is out and when it’s warm enough to go outside,” Gamble said. “I think it (the weather) helped some, but some stuff gets going later on in May, so it doesn’t help that much in March.”

But not all is sunshine and roses in the Twin Cities. The mayor’s recent battle with the city’s budget — complete with potential layoffs for government employees — is a sign that, like most of the country, the economy is still on the rocks.

Consumers shop around more

As retailers and restaurants have been fighting for consumers’ food dollars, produce suppliers have been fighting for retail and foodservice business. Although there aren’t any significant additions to the competitive marketplace, there is strong competition.

“A lot of what we’re seeing with customers is there is a lot more shopping,” said Mike McLeod, produce manager for Cloquet, Minn.-based Upper Lakes Foods, a foodservice supplier.

McLeod said it’s not rare for five suppliers to be working on one account.

“People are a lot more aware of and in tune with what they’re buying,” McLeod said. “They’re definitely getting smarter and smarter.”

Customers are more aware of new products and more likely to try new products, McLeod said.

“There are customers asking for stuff they’ve seen right off Food Network, whereas in the past it’s just been lettuce and tomatoes, and that’s what you were looking for,” McLeod said. “Everyday I get a call for something goofy.”

The culinary scene is fast-paced in the Twin Cities, said Kevin Hannigan, vice president of St. Paul, Minn.-based J&J Distributing Inc.

The cities had at least a handful of chefs up for James Beard awards this year, one of the top honors in the culinary field.

“It’s really a fast-moving culture,” Hannigan said. “Life is good for food distributors.”

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