The sluggish economy isn’t hindering retail sales of greenhouse specialty items.

“The foodservice sector seems to be the hardest-hit, and the specialty varieties rebounded in the last half of 2010 with people trying to recreate the restaurant experience at home,” said Kyle Moynahan, salesman for Jem-D International, Leamington, Ontario. “This has driven demand for specialty products at the retail level.”

Vice president of sales and marketing Matt Mastronardi said sales of staple items have grown for Pure Hot House Foods Inc., Leamington, but more recently sales of specialty items have increased as well.

Mastronardi said Pure Hothouse trials more than 100 different varieties across all of its product categories each year.

“Our customers want to keep things fresh on the store shelves,” he said, “and I think the only way you can do that is by having some unique items your competitors don’t.”

Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville, Ontario, gave customers plenty of options for new tomatoes last year, rolling out unique items, such as the Minzano, Zima and mini Kumatos.

“The specialty products we grow are what set us apart from the competition,” said Paul Mastronardi, executive vice president. “We carry a full line 12 months a year and consistently supply them to our retailers.”

On the other hand, at what point is a specialty item not so specialized?

“Some segments of specialties, such as cocktail tomatoes, are showing more growth because they are becoming more mainstream and more of a staple item on people’s grocery list,” said Ray Mastronardi, director of sales and purchasing for Del Fresco Produce, Kingsville.

President Chris Jacobs said Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Ruthven, Ontario, is experiencing growth throughout its business.

“The greenhouse demand continues to grow, especially in prepackaged,” he said. “Our specialty is in demand in spite of the economy, so we have found that the consumer still seeks a new eating experiences as well as our main line of beefsteak, tomatoes on the vine, peppers and cucumbers.”