Summer is here, but wholesalers on the New England Produce Center, Chelsea, Mass., said the local deal won’t necessarily be the antidote they need for a months-long lull.
Allen Lisitano, vice president of Lisitano Produce Inc., Chelsea, said the company’s volume drops 20% in August and September.
“The more into the deep summer we get, that’s our slowest time of the year,” he said. “No one needs a distributor when you can grow tomatoes in your own backyard. August to September is our slowest time of the year because of local produce.”
The company actually carries local produce, but Lisitano said it’s not the company’s main pull.
With a short growing season and inconsistent volumes in Massachusetts, Lisitano said “regional” might be a better term than “local.” He said the company sources from places like Vineland, N.J., and even Canada.
“We try to bring in the best product we can,” he said. “We still have regular orders in the summer. But people plant their own gardens, and some of them are really impressive. We sell a lot of tomatoes, but no one wants my tomatoes in August because you’re either growing them yourself or getting them from the guy down the street.”
Peter John Condakes, president of Peter Condakes Co. Inc., Chelsea, said his company has carried local produce since the company’s inception, but he said area growers don’t ship as much product to the terminal market as they once did.
“They have their own stands, or it goes to farmers markets,” he said. “They don’t want to have a middleman if they can help it, but they usually have to come to market with their excess.”
Steven Piazza, president of Community-Suffolk Inc., Everett, Mass., said his company buys from growers in Montreal, which is roughly 300 miles away because of inadequate volume in Massachusetts.
“There’s not anyone local that can grow a substantial amount that can keep us supplied. We mix it up with local, West Coast and southern growers.”
Ed Ring, owner of Ring Bros. Wholesale, South Dennis, Mass., said his company highlights local produce in its two retail stores and buys direct from growers during the summer, but making it a focus of his wholesale business is a bigger challenge for the same reason Piazza cited.
“People love local,” he said. “People are looking for it all the time. We have a lot of local stuff. You can sell it at retail but not at wholesale because of inconsistent quantity.”
Demand for New England product isn’t limited to retail, said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Southborough.
“Locally grown isn’t a trend,” he said. “It’s a standard now. It’s an expected way of doing business. You see large chains adapting to that.”
Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, already was shipping local peas and fava beans in early April.
Coosemans salesman Maurice Crafts said chefs get itchy for local ingredients as the weather warms. Other spring produce items include spring onions and spring garlic, along with “the madness” of eastern fiddlehead season.
“Foodservice customers make up a good part of our business, and right now things seem to be getting better,” Crafts said.