“They’re raising the bar, but not their customer service,” said Crane, whose stores are 90% organic and carry about 350 produce items.
Chris McNamee, vice president of Botsford & Goodfellow Inc., Clackamas, Ore., agreed with Crane that customer interaction is a key component for the independents and should allow them to maintain their market share.
Ray Bowen, president of Charlie’s Produce, a Seattle-based wholesaler, said the chains’ organic success is dependent upon the attention they dedicate to organic produce, which can be time consuming.
“They can compete if they want to prioritize,” Bowen said. “They have a certain amount of time that they want to give to work their departments.”
While not conventional, Whole Foods is one example of a commercial organic operation that hasn’t generated the type of interest in the Northwest that it’s garnered in other parts of the U.S., said Jeff Fairchild, produce buyer for New Seasons Markets, which has nine stores in Portland that are between 75% and 80% organic.
There are four Whole Foods stores in the Seattle area, and six in the Portland area, according to the retailer’s Web site.
“It’s a challenging market for Whole Foods,” Fairchild said. “It’s a very regionally-centered supportive part of the country. They can’t waltz in here with their high-end format and wow people.”
Whole Foods has caused a shake up for some, like Organically Grown, whom Whole Foods pulled business from in January 2007, after opening a distribution facility in Washington, Lively said.
To make up for the loss, Organically Grown found new business with Safeway and PCC, and even began working a little with Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc., which recently began selling and delivering produce in the Seattle area, Lively said.
CF Fresh offers organic apples, pears, onions, potatoes, cherries, asparagus, plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines under its Viva Tierra label and private-label programs, Royal said, and United Salad Co., Portland, also has an extensive organic array, offering around 200 items, said Ernie Spada Jr., United Salad’s vice president.
Charlie’s Produce has its own group of 20 organic farmers in Oregon and Washington — Farmer’s Own — who grow potatoes, onions and several other vegetables. On the commercial side, the wholesaler sources a full line of organics from various regions, Bowen said.