Sales of boxes of assorted produce items at 5280 Produce in Denver have skyrocketed from 300-500 a week before the COVID-19 outbreak to 3,000 during a week in April, says co-owner Brad Jester. ( Courtesy 5280 Produce )

This story appeared in The Packer’s May 4 issue and may not reflect current conditions relating to COVID-19. See COVID-19 updates here. 

The COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to be having a major impact on sales at Denver distributors, expect for the foodservice segment, but companies have implemented various preventive measures to protect employees from coronavirus.

“Because we are a specialty produce supplier, most of our products are not mainstream items that are needed by most households, said Garrick Macek, vice president of operations for Coosemans-Denver.

“Our sales are down 70% or so because of the restaurants being closed,” he said.

For some reason, he said, sales of ginger seem to be on the rise since the coronavirus came on the scene.

Coosemans has reduced hours for staff and put sanitation practices in place to ensure that all surfaces are sterilized.

“Gloves, hairnets, sleeves, etc., have always been the norm here at Coosemans,” he said, “but staff are wearing face masks as well when working in closer quarters with each other.”

So far, COVID-19 has not had a significant effect on 5280 Produce in Denver, said co-owner Brad Jester.

“We haven’t had any problems at all,” he said in late April. “Nobody has been sick at all.”

No one was working from home, he said, because at 5280, it’s necessary for the staff to be on site.

But the company is taking measures to keep coronavirus at bay.

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“Everybody wears masks, and everybody wears gloves,” he said, and social distancing guidelines are followed. Business was up at 5280 Produce, Jester said.

A spike was especially noticeable in mid-March, when business was “incredible,” and “the sales were crazy.”

Pinto beans, rice, potatoes and products that hold well suddenly became tops sellers, he said.

Sales have since settled down.

Big Sky Trading in Denver was not seriously impacted either, said J.T. Pickett, general operations manager and organic produce buyer.

The company just does cold storage and transportation and does not break down product or do manufacturing or processing, he said.

Companies that do those kinds of things were hit a lot harder, he said.

“All we do is repalletize and send (product) out to our customers,” he said.

There is no processing line to worry about, but drivers wear masks and there is little crossover in the warehouse.

“We’ve got thousands of square feet and only a few employees at any one given time in the facility,” he said.

If there’s a slow day, the company tries to rotate drivers for paid days off to prevent exposure.

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Most of the office personnel work from home anyway, he said, “so that really hasn’t affected our day-to-day life.”

As of April 20, everyone at Colo-Pac Produce in Denver has to wear a mask, said Tony Garin, vice president of sales. And everyone’s temperature was being taken.

“We have a pretty stringent food safety program anyway, so there’s a lot of handwashing, hairnets and a lot of protocols that are kind of normal for us,” he said.

However, there is more sanitizing of door handles, counters and anything that people come in contact with.

Things are mostly the same as usual in the plant, but there is more sanitizing of equipment, he said.

No one was working from home unless they were feeling sick, Garin said, in which case they would go into self-quarantine.

Employees have to be on hand to check out product, and that’s difficult to do from home, Garin said.

But employees are spread out when they’re at work. And sales calls are made by phone rather than in person, he said.