The highly competitive Atlanta retail market helps boost produce sales.

Distributors on the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga., say new stores are always entering the market and battling for shopper dollars.

“This thing down here is so competitive,” said Howard Mundt, president of Harvest Brokerage, Atlanta. “Publix and Kroger are where the action is. The retailers are doing well. The weak ones go by the wayside and the good ones get bigger while the others just drop.”

Survival of the fittest

As evidence of the competitiveness, Mundt cited Food Lion LLC’s recent exit from the Atlanta market. The Salisbury, N.C.-based chain is owned by Brussels-based Delhaize Group.

Mundt said such a departure puzzles him.

“To me, I don’t understand how they can build these strip malls and put their grocery stores in and then turn around and close them in nine months,” Mundt said.

Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Atlanta, said chains catering specifically to Asians and Koreans are emerging.

Independent retailers are also doing well.

Scott said chains including Stockbridge, Ga.-based All American Quality Foods Inc., which does business as The Food Depot, and Decatur, Ga.-based Wayfield Foods Inc.

He said both retail chains operate with a dozen to nearly 30 locations.

Scott said those chains, as well as others, help keep produce sales popping.

“They’re going into some of these retailers that have pulled out and are moving into some of those stores,” Scott said. “Some of the major chains have tried to compete in the past here in Atlanta but end up pulling out. I’m not sure if these other chains’ success is because of the smaller-sized stores or customer service. At times, it’s pricing.”

Cliff Sherman, owner of Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., Forest Park, said the independents continue to prosper.

“They’re doing really well,” Sherman said. “It’s in the neighborhoods they operate. They have their own unique little niches. They cater to their clientele, and we cater to them.”

Business is consistent

Hubert Nall III, president of Hubert N. Nall Co. Inc., Atlanta, said retail business remains consistent.

“They seem to be doing well and are staying fairly busy,” he said. “Business is picking up the last month of so. We’re seeing more people in the stores. But that may only be springtime.”

Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. Inc., Atlanta, said retailers enthusiastically merchandise produce.

“They’re real aggressive in merchandising,” he said. “Retail sales are growing more and more. The produce departments look good. There are a lot of end-cap displays with big promotions on them. The more you put it out there, the more the product sells, particularly if they’re on ad. That helps a lot in the movement.”

Like many shoppers, Brian Young, vice president of Coosemans Atlanta Inc., is drawn most to the produce aisle when he walks into grocery stores.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Loblaws or south of the border,” Young said. “Whatever store you’re in, they all try to put their best foot forward in presentation and marketing.

“They’re being very creative in the back of the store with cutting up cantaloupe, strawberries, and making food platters. They’re there to generate sales and revenue. It’s a very competitive retail scene, and they do well in produce.”