Economic trends, however, pose challenges to keeping that demand high, Nardelli said.
“The economy is very, very poor in a lot of the parts of the country we go to,” he said.
Add high fuel prices into the mix, Nardelli said, and consumers in many cities east of the Mississippi have less money to spend on groceries.
“The (consumer) has less in her pocket, and she is prioritizing her produce purchases,” he said. “She needs paper towels, soap, milk and bread before produce.”
If peppers are $1.99 per pound, she might buy the cabbage at 89 cents per pound instead, Nardelli said.
The trend is evident at foodservice, Nardelli said.
“Mid-level restaurants, where you can get something for $10, are doing well,” he said. “High-end places are suffering.”
More long-term, for U.S. growers to stay viable, consumers will have to accept that they must bear some of the burden of ever-rising input costs, Nardelli said.
Otherwise, imports will take over.
“It will be like oil,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to have to pay for it,’ and we’re going to have to like it.”
Growth in demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables continues to boost demand for New Jersey-grown product, said Phil Neary, director of operations and grower relations for Sunny Valley International, Glassboro, N.J.
Local, Neary said, is a concept that’s gone from marketing buzz word to reality in recent years.
“If you’d asked five or six years ago, I’d say that everybody’s talking about it, but it’s meaningless,” he said. “Now it’s a trend that has some meaning behind it.”
Sluggish demand in 2010 will mean a smaller New Jersey peach crop in 2011, said Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent with the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in Clayton.
“There are fewer acres of peaches this year, definitely — 2010 was very tough,” he said.
A number of factors conspired to produce a season growers would like to forget, Frecon said.
“We were early, there was a lot of competition, prices were bad,” he said.
Heading into the 2011 season, the number of Garden State growers growing peaches is likely similar to last year, but they’re growing fewer of them, and more of them are marketing them locally, Frecon said.