Homegrown produce pushes Ohio sales upward

06/01/2012 08:43:00 AM
Jim Offner

Costs, timely deliveries and a focus on supporting local businesses combine to strengthen Ohio consumers appetite for vegetables grown in their state, growers, shippers and retailers say.

Market operators said in mid-May business was already picking up as the annual vegetable deal approached its peak season.

“Summertime is always busier, with all the vegetables coming in,” said Charlene Kalain, who with husband John owns John Boy’s Farm Market near Akron, Ohio.

Great for promotions

Ohio’s vegetable season is a time for heavy promotions, said Joe Degaetano, manager of Miles Farmers Market, Solon, Ohio.

“We feature it prominently in ads, and when they come in we have signs over the products that are locally grown,” he said.

Sometimes, growers surprise the retailers by extending seasons in some crops, Degaetano said.

“I had cauliflower into December last year because it was so mild, and cauliflower is such a hardy vegetable they were still pulling it late in the season,” he said

He said his store typically carries Ohio apples “almost through the winter.”

Sales increasing

Growers and shippers say sales of Ohio-grown vegetables have been steadily increasing.

“There’s been a pretty good effort for the homegrown local supply for a long time, and it keeps getting attention,” said Todd Michael, vice president of Urbana-based Michael Farms Inc.

Michael said there are numerous reasons for the increase.

“Food is a little more intimate than clothing,” he said.

Knowing the location of a producer’s operation gives consumers confidence that the food isn’t coming from a big factory farm, he said.

Retailers and restaurants actively promote Ohio vegetables in season, and the trend is spreading, Michael said.

“We’ve got customers who will shoot videos of us out on the farm and will post pictures above the produce in their stores because they want their customers to know where they get their produce.”

The buy-local trend is an extension of a pick-your-own trend that took hold in the 1970s, Michael said.

“Before, it was about going to the farm and getting it yourself, and they still want to get food from the local grower, only with more convenience,” he said.

Retailers have responded, Michael said.

“The grocers have said they get local whenever they can, simply because it’s fresher and available in Ohio,” Michael said.

It makes good business sense for everybody, said Loren Buurma, co-owner of Willard, Ohio-based Buurma Farms Inc.

“Your best business is always closest to home,” he said.

The state’s Ohio Proud label is good marketing tool, Buurma said.

“I think people look for it,” he said.

Restaurants aggressively promote local produce, as well, Buurma said.

“Sometimes, the restaurants list the names of the local grower, and so the people see it and say, ‘Yeah, I know that family,’” Buurma said.

A growing local business is an effective check on costs, said Jim Wiers, president of Willard-based Wiers Farm Inc.

“If we can sell our product within a couple of hundred miles of home rather than 500 miles away, it’s great,” he said.



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