( File photo )

Atlanta is all about choice — among retail grocery banners and restaurants — and that’s good news for the produce business there, vendors say.

“Within metro Atlanta, produce retailers range from large corporate stores to small farmers markets,” said Jeff Howard, manager of the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga. 

2019 Shelby Market Shares data for Georgia (Atlanta, Athens, Macon, Rome) shows that Kroger is the clear retail market leader, with 151 stores and a 30.5% share of the retail grocery market.

Other top retailers:
> Walmart: 105 stores, 23% share;
> Publix: 156 stores: 22% share;
> UNFI (wholesaler): 77 stores, 6.1% share;
> Costco: 10 stores, 5.4% share; and
> Ingles: 53 stores, 4% share.

The buy-local trend that has swept the country has a special significance in Atlanta, where vendors can move items bearing the Georgia Grown label, Howard said.

“Georgians see it as an opportunity to support farmers and farm communities in (the) southwest part of our state, who suffered tremendously from Hurricane Michael,” he said, referring to the Category 5 storm that swept into Georgia in October 2018. 

“Buying Georgia-grown produce makes more sense than ever to Georgia consumers.”

Several major chains are now launching new Georgia Grown campaigns based on a concept that local is “better, fresher and smarter,” Howard said.

Robert Poole, sales director with Forest Park-based foodservice distributor Athena Farms, likens his business model with a fine-dining restaurant.

“He doesn’t guarantee he’s going to be full that night, and we’re fully cognizant of that,” he said. 

“We’re serious about what we do. We try to bring what the larger companies bring, as far as safety and the value and quality of the product. When one of our steakhouses calls, we actually care that they’re calling us. At the end of the day, we’re in the service business; that’s how you win.”

For specialty-focused Coosemans Atlanta Inc., business has been good, said Bryan Thornton, general manager.
“We have retail business and we don’t have a lot, but like to focus on their needs and keep them supplied and happy,” he said.

For Coosemans, success is “filling the little niches,” and there are plenty in Atlanta, Thornton said.

“For us ... we’re a little different, since we handle specialties like lemon grass and baby kiwi. Those aren’t trend-setters, but for our commodities, it’s a little different to say one thing stands out,” he said.

Wholesaler Nickey Gregory Co. LLC has seen a niche to fill in the fresh-cut category and recently opened a fresh-cut processing division called Family Fresh Foods. 

The company is enjoying a period of growth, said Andrew Scott, director of marketing and business development.
“We have expanded to three warehouses on the Atlanta State Farmers Market, giving us a total of 115,000 square feet of warehouse space, so we continue to expand here in Atlanta,” he said.

Forest Park-based Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc. has seen healthy sales, as well, said Cliff Sherman, owner.
“I’ve got a lot of people that buy from me,” he said. 

“We specialize in Southern veg and greens and do a lot with fruit.”

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