Georgia Grown has become a popular label in the Atlanta market. ( File Photo )

Local produce continues to see strong interest in the Atlanta market, and industry members say the Georgia Grown logo has been key.

“You see Georgia Grown being demanded more and more,” said Paul Thompson, manager of the Atlanta State Farmers Market.

Bryan Thornton, general manager of Forest Park, Ga.-based Coosemans Atlanta, also praised the program.

“Georgia Grown is probably one of the best marketing tools that I’ve seen in Georgia since I started working on the market 25 years ago,” Thornton said.

“It just really has gotten the name out there for Georgia-grown commodities, which is excellent.”

Coosemans handles mainly specialty items but looks to offer regional product when opportunities arise.

“Whatever we can get hydroponically local, we do,” Thornton said. “We do have some hydroponic lettuces, which have been very popular.”

Gene Sutherland Jr., president of Forest Park-based Sutherland’s Foodservice, said people have been drawn to local because of the freshness of the product and the appeal of helping support the Georgia economy.

“The interest is higher than it has ever been,” Sutherland Jr. said.

“You can just look around and see the number of local farms (growing) and that will tell most of the story.”

Andrew Scott, director of marketing and business development with the Forest Park-based Nickey Gregory Co., noted that even national sandwich chain Subway has been embracing the excitement about local produce, featuring Georgia growers of bell peppers and cucumbers in one of its commercials and also using the Georgia Grown logo in the ad.

“It’s really neat,” Scott said.

Nickey Gregory has locally grown programs in the spring and in the fall with some large regional distributors, Scott said.

He said the Georgia Grown logo even shows up on some menus, in addition to retail locations. Nickey Gregory uses the logo on its trucks as well.

David Collins III, president of Forest Park-based Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice, also described local as a key program.

“We have a newsletter we put out each week that shares all our locally grown offerings,” Collins said.

“In addition to that we have signage made up with the farmer’s picture on it and how much that farmer contributes to the Georgia economy.

“We’re a proponent of local-grown, sustainable agriculture,” Collins said.

In addition to consumer demand, another factor making Georgia product attractive to buyers in the Atlanta area is the cost of transportation.

“That’s going to help promote some of the local-grown, sustainable agriculture ... because there is an extreme shortage in over-the-road trucks and there has been for a number of years, so we feel like that is a challenge in the marketplace today,” Collins said.

Scott also noted the high prices for trucks.

“Transportation costs are very high right now, which is increasing the pricing and costs to restaurants and the distributors,” Scott said.

The company has its own trucks, which is helpful, but the electronic logging devices mandate has made shipping more challenging all over.

Thornton described the issue as a frustrating one both for truckers and for their customers.

“Truck drivers say, ‘We don’t make as much money now because we can’t run as long,’ and so their truck rates have gone up to compensate for the time gaps,” Thornton said.

“When it takes time to load at a packing shed and trucks get held for four or five hours, they’re still considered on the clock, so they only have so much drive time left in the day, so it slows down a lot.

“You have to run teams, teams are obviously double the cost,” Thornton said.

“I believe it’s $10,000-plus now for a truck where it used to be $6,000 for a truck to come across the country, so it’s a significant increase.”