Michigan ranks as the nation’s largest producer of tart cherries and is among the top three in apple and blueberry production. But after waiting all winter for their favorite local fruits, consumers in the Great Lakes region were disappointed by a 2012 season that saw many of the state’s crops decimated by frost and drought.
“Last year we were pretty much wiped out in Michigan,” said Joe Santoro, area supervisor and buyer for independent retailer Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, St. Clair Shores, Mich.
“We have been told that this year, yields should be high for apples. People are asking for them already. Michigan apples are an item our local customers are definitely anticipating this year, especially since there was no crop last year.”
Shoppers will have to wait for Michigan apples, which won’t be harvested until August, but asparagus and some other vegetables already were in stores in early June, said Vince Sciarrino, general manager of Vince & Joe’s Gourmet Market, Shelby Township, Mich.
“People love it. You always have consumers asking for certain local items. They can’t wait for Michigan corn.”
Santoro said Nino Salvaggio has a farmers week each year in late July or early August when the retailer brings a few growers to each location to meet consumers and answer their questions.
Although some would argue that the “local” label could be applied to product from neighboring states, Santoro said that at his stores, local means Michigan grown.
“I don’t want to promote Indiana and Ohio corn when I have actual Michigan corn,” he said.
Sciarrino said Vince & Joe’s uses signs and banners to point out local product to its shoppers.
Talbert Nething, sales manager for Van Solkema Produce, Byron Center, Mich., said demand for local product continues to grow.
“I feel that more and more consumers expect it from both retailers and restaurants,” he said.
“As transportation costs continue to rise, I feel it is important to provide value by growing and packing items as close to your customer base a possible.”
Retailers and consumers are hungry for local product after last season’s weather disasters, said Barry Winkel, part owner of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich. And it’s not just the independent retailers supporting local growers.
“The chain stores in the area really promote locally grown fruit,” Winkel said.
“They take care of us. They buy local first if we can supply it. They’ll run us out of product.”