Minnesota, sometimes known as “The Bread and Butter State,” may be better known for its wheat, flour and dairy products than its fresh produce, but Twin Cities residents have a penchant for fruits and vegetables nonetheless, produce distributors say.
“Consumers in Minnesota have been incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets for several years,” said Nina Brooks Haag, senior director of marketing and R&D for New Brighton, Minn.-based H. Brooks & Co. LLC.
They continue to portion out more of their plates to fruits and vegetables and less to hefty servings of meat, she said.
As autumn approaches, the focus for H. Brooks will be on back-to-school items, the fall harvest and value-added products like the company’s Sweet Potatoes with a Brown Sugar Rub and Potato Blend with Herb Butter, Brooks Haag said.
Items like squash also will start to appear, and seasonal flavors, like pumpkin spice, will be in evidence.
Apples, too, play an important role in Minnesota in autumn.
“We’re the home of the Honeycrisp, SweeTango and First Kiss,” she said. “Those will prime the market in the fall.”
Lettuces, melons, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and broccoli are some of the popular fall items from St. Paul, Minn.-based Co-op Partners Warehouse, said Tom Rodmyre, warehouse director.
Some growers even sell heirloom tomatoes.
Minneapolis-based Roland Marketing Inc. distributes a wide range of products, including potatoes, onions, apples and pears, nationally as well as throughout the Twin Cities area, said Dan Meurs, chief operating officer.
Meurs seemed pleased with the state of the produce industry in the Twin Cities this year.
“Business is definitely up over last year,” he said.
He expected an uptick as summer winds down.
“Things definitely slow down a little bit in August, but they pick up again in September for a lot of local business, like potatoes and onions,” he said.
Consumers seek out local produce whenever they can, he said, adding that fall is a good time to buy locally in the Twin Cities.
The company specializes in local potatoes, which he said are available for two to three months in the fall.
“Produce business in the Twin Cities is excellent right now,” agreed Pat Miller, vice president at Russ Davis Wholesale, Wadena, Minn.
“We have seen solid produce volume over the summer, which should continue into the fall and winter months with new trendy items being developed,” he said.
Business tends to stay strong when fall arrives, even with the change of summer fruits to fall and winter cooking veggies and fruit, Miller said.
Local products have a strong presence in the Twin Cities market until the first frost — at the end of September or early October — Rodmyre said.
Co-op Partners Warehouse tries to maintain a local aura even when picking up produce from California or Mexico by sourcing from small, local farms, not huge conglomerates.
While some distributors might fill a truck with one or two pickups, Co-op Partners Warehouse may make 10 or 12 pickups, often one pallet at a time, he said.
Supermarkets are interested in sourcing locally, and they know their customers want to be kept in the loop about what they’re buying, Brooks Haag said.
“Consumers are interested in knowing the story behind their food — whether it’s local, organic or conventional,” she said.
H. Brooks, which sources locally whenever possible, partners with its customers to provide background on the company’s growers and to tell the story behind their food, she said.
The fall is a huge time for local apples from grower-partners and an excellent time for pumpkins, gourds and fall decor, Miller said.
“Products such as citrus, cabbage, cooking veggies, onions and potatoes are a lot stronger in the fall versus other seasons,” he said.
“Basically all of those wonderful comfort foods come out as the weather starts to get a little cooler.”
Although summer is Minnesota’s prime growing time, a number of items are becoming available year-round as more greenhouse operations pop up, Brooks Haag said.
It’s not uncommon these days to see locally grown tomatoes, greens and lettuces available year-round from the state’s growers.
But the Twin Cities’ consumers aren’t in a hurry to give up their favorite summer produce, Brooks Haag said.
“In Minnesota, we to like to hang onto summer as long as possible,” she said.
“As long as the weather allows, we will focus on watermelon and summery flavors.”