Sales improvement can’t come soon enough for Southern produce companies - The Packer

Sales improvement can’t come soon enough for Southern produce companies

06/30/2011 02:16:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

The agriculture enhancement grants help pay for items such as equipment, facilities, certification and audits, Wszelaki said.

In the Knoxville area, there are at least four farmers markets, with more located in almost every county, Wszelaki said.

Lee Pittman, owner and president, Dixie Produce Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn., said there are fewer independent operators in the foodservice and retail sectors in Tennessee.

However, Pittman thinks there always will be a segment of consumers who prefer to patronize locally owned restaurants and stores, and he thinks the ones that have survived the past few years of difficult economic times will get stronger.

“I think there’s enough support for them,” Pittman said. “People are looking for them.”

A handful of major supermarket chains, including Walmart, Kroger and Schnucks, now dominate Memphis, said Lee Forcherio, general manager, Orbit Tomato Corp., Memphis, Tenn.

“They’ve pretty much squeezed out the independents,” he said. “Ten years ago, there were probably 10 or 12 independents and little retail produce houses and fruit stands.”

Forcherio said he doesn’t know of any small independent grocers now, although he said there may be some scattered about the Memphis area.

“It’s hard for the independent person to compete with the chains, price-wise,” he said.

Forcherio said he also has seen many small, locally owned restaurants in Memphis go out of business. He said he attributes that to high unemployment rates and consumers’ tighter food budgets.

The most recent metropolitan data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Memphis’ unemployment rate in April was 10.1%, more than 1% above the national average of 9%.

No restaurant chains appear to be filling the holes left by the local restaurants that have closed in Memphis, Forcherio said. The city already had, and continues to have, many large chain restaurants.

“It seems they’re the ones doing the business,” Forcherio said. “Just the independents are struggling.”

In Nashville, Tenn., some locally owned groceries remain, but not many, Holmberg said. Nashville-based Osborne Foods operates small neighborhood stores under the Apple Market and Bi-Rite banners. Kroger, Publix and Walmart are major retailers in the Nashville market, Holmberg added.

Three Nashville-area Target and Super Target stores offer fresh foods, according to Target’s website.

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