A display locally grown produce at a retailer supplied by Four Seasons Produce. ( Courtesy Four Seasons Produce )

Philadelphia is a mélange of cultures, as well as big and small stores and restaurants, with a range of product needs and client bases, produce suppliers say.

Value is one proposition, said Christine Hoffman, marketing coordinator at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

“Several merchants at the (market) are offering value-added products and services for our foodservice and retail customers,” she said.

“For instance, ripening services, repack, fresh-cut and delivery services are on the rise.”

Vendors also carry a large variety of exotic and specialty produce, as well as staples, and work closely with clients to help them “deliver convenience to their clients while encouraging consumption of fresh produce,” she said.

Ephrata, Pa.-based distributor Four Seasons Family of Cos. works with retail clients to help each “tell a story,” said Jason Hollinger, president.

“Everyone is different,” he said. “The idea that we have to help them be great merchants is more of the focus. We love displays and great items and that becomes part of the retailer’s story.”

Local produce also stimulates sales, and nearby Amish and Mennonite communities are strong participants in that category, said Jon Steffy, general manager of Four Seasons Produce.

“There happen to be many Amish and Conservative Mennonite growers right in the Lancaster County, Pa., and other parts of south-central Pennsylvania that produce crops like sweet onions, tomatoes, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkins and squashes.”

Restaurants are buying plenty of produce in the Philadelphia marketplace, said Tom Curtis, president of Tom Curtis Produce Inc., a Philadelphia wholesaler.

“The wholesalers that supply institutions and restaurants, there’s a ton of business,” he said.

The metro area’s mix of ethnicities makes for a vibrant business, for both the retail and foodservice trades, Curtis said.

“There’s a lot of retailers and ethnic retailers,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of Indian and (Asian) trade, as well as Mexican.”

Consumers look for details in stores and on menus, said Emily Kohlhas, marketing director with wholesaler John Vena Inc.

They don’t want to see a generic ‘Asian pear’ — they want to know, it is a California-grown hosui? How about a Chinese yali pear? Or a Japanese 20th century?

“Specificity is a huge trend in 2018,” she said.

“Consumers at retail and in foodservice want to see juicy details called out on signage and menus. They don’t want to see a generic ‘Asian pear’ — they want to know, it is a California-grown hosui? How about a Chinese yali pear? Or a Japanese 20th century?”

Store and restaurant employees can be an asset in building a program involving new product items, Kohlhas said.

“Microgreens, baby leaves, edible flowers and sprouts are no longer optional,” she said.

“Luckily, thanks to the huge variety being developed by innovative growers, micros and edible flowers are not just thoughtless garnish anymore — they’re essential finishes on composed dishes, included for their flavor, texture and aesthetics.

“We’re even seeing retailers pick up a few core SKUs of microgreens and sprouts as consumers begin to experiment with them at home.

Big or small, restaurants seem to be thriving in Philadelphia, said Mark Levin, co-owner of M. Levin & Co., a Philadelphia wholesaler.

“You’ve got things that don’t usually sell — Brussels sprouts, leeks and fancier stuff like that — restaurants are taking, but the whole city has opened up,” he said. “A lot of outdoor restaurants — they put their tables and chairs on the sidewalk.”

Foodservice outlets are looking to increase their fresh offerings, said Mike Maxwell, president of Philadelphia-based distributor Procacci Bros. Sales.

“They are looking for more fresh options, which is a nice alternative to what they’re presenting now,” he said.

“We’re working on items to facilitate that.”

 
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