MIAMI Foodservice and retail sales of fresh produce in The Sunshine State remain brisk.

Demand from restaurants and institutional foodservice customers including schools and military as well as supermarkets and other customers keeps produce moving in Florida, wholesalers report.

In Orlando, the area"s many restaurants, hotels and theme parks make for consistent distribution.

Ernie Harvill, president of the Orlando-based Harvill"s Produce Co., said business is solid.

"Disney seems to be doing well and everyone here seems to be holding its own, which is good," he said. "This area has quite a bit of foreign tourists and the snowbirds are doing well this season. With the Northeast catching a lot of bad weather, that"s sending more people down here."

For the Tampa Bay region, sales remain steady, said James Killebrew, vice president of the Tampa-based Baird Produce Inc.

"Normally, this is the season for foodservice sales," he said in mid-February. "However, they"re not quite as active as what they were hoping for the year. They were expecting to see even more of an increase, but I don"t think it"s been quite as much as they were expecting. Still, it"s better than it was and has only been increasing over the last few years."

In the Miami area, the many restaurants and clubs on the famous South Beach, as well as resorts and casinos and other foodservice venues, keep produce orders moving, said Bruce Fishbein, a partner with The Produce Connection Inc., Miami.

The Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, for example, may not be as busy on weeknights, but on weekends, crowds pack the place.

"The restaurants in this area are doing very well," he said. "The beach, especially on weekends, is very busy. Business is better than it"s been the last couple of years."

The Produce Connection also services schools and military installations and the company was recently awarded a four-year contract renewal from the Department of Defense as a prime vendor to serve the region"s many military operations, Fishbein said.

Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit &amp Produce in West Palm Beach distributes to white tablecloth restaurants, resorts, country clubs and other foodservice customers throughout the region from Miami to Fort Pierce.

"Business is definitely up," said Jack Scalisi. "There are more and more places opening up down here. When we first came down here 35 years ago, the season was usually done by April 1. Today, it doesn"t become quiet until early June."

This year, however, the foul weather in the Northeast and Midwest delayed many visitors from traveling to Florida and kept January business average, he said.

Though January sales were up a little over the previous year, it wasn"t up that much after the holidays, Scalisi said. 

Foodservice sales remain strong for Tampa-based Crews &amp Garcia Inc., which sells to foodservice purveyors and other customers throughout the state.

"The restaurants are busy and demand has been good," said Louis Garcia Jr., president. "We are delivering more produce to the restaurant jobbers. You go out on the weekends to eat, it"s hard to find a place where you don"t have to wait."



Supermarket sales haven"t changed much in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota region, Baird"s Killebrew said.

"That business has been fairly steady," he said. "There"s been a small increase, especially this time of the year when people are trying to eat more healthy with all the New Year"s resolutions."

Retailers in the Pinellas County part of Tampa Bay, which includes the smaller stores in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, seem to be busier than others in Tampa, Garcia said.

Like other distributors, Crews &amp Garcia services the smaller retailers and sells primarily "shorts" to the larger chains.

"There"s more competition all the time and less of them," Garcia said. "The ones that are still around are doing pretty well."