With use of organics increasing at single-operation restaurants and local grocery stores, the need for local distribution companies is clear.
As opposed to conventional produce that’s typically skewed to large retailers, organic offerings are often spread throughout several stores or operations that only need a small amount of each item, with the exception of larger companies such as Whole Foods or similar stores that can handle larger shipments of each commodity.
“You have a lot more mom-and-pop traditional retail stores and organic restaurants that need supply,” and there can be challenges in how to get to those stores,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales, Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
Roberts explained that it’s nearly impossible for him to ship small orders to all those stores.
“We need those regional wholesalers, which service more than just organic berries, to help reach all those locations,” he said.
Other companies also use those regional distributors.
“We don’t do much business directly with restaurants or foodservice, but we do sell to some distributors that are more oriented to restaurant trade,” said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and sustainability coordinator for CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.
“Those distributors have been playing an important role in organics since the beginning,” she said.
Scott Mabs, director of sales and marketing at Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif., agreed.
“A store couldn’t come to a grower and ask for two boxes, so these operations have played a crucial role in serving the organic marketplace for a long time,” he said.
However, Mabs has seen an increase in local and organic direct-to-consumer programs across the country.
“They have local produce mixed with organic product from other areas and are supplying that directly to consumers in a local area. We’re seeing that a lot,” he said.
Other companies still provide direct-to-retail service, no matter the size of the order.
Charlie’s Produce, Seattle, often fills orders for companies needing only a few boxes of a product. The company also provides the delivery side of service for local growers unable to make routes to each individual restaurant they sell to.
“We are a large wholesaler, but that’s a service we provide because we are a local-based company,” said Diane Dempster, manager of the Farmer’s Own program and local organic procurement.