MIAMI — A more difficult economy has changed the types of specialties Florida buyers have been ordering.

Florida distributors report specialty produce sales have declined or at least remain steady.

Wholesalers say Florida’s diverse population and visitors who have experienced dining in other parts of the world contribute to the market’s appetite for exotic produce items.

Roy Kane, vice president and managing partner of Coosemans Tampa Inc., Tampa, said orders have shifted to different types of specialties.

Instead of the golden raspberries and other exotics, buyers have been focusing on ordering more mainstream specialties such as asparagus, fresh herbs and microgreens, he said.

“With everyone trying to trim costs, a lot of places are not as focused on the specialties in the last year,” Kane said.

“You still have conventions where you are selling a lot of specialties. There was a drop this year, but business has been affected during the last couple of years.”

Strong specialty sellers for Coosemans include chayote squash, yucca roots, malanga and plantains, along with purple and fingerling potatoes.

Exotics demand

Specialties account for about 40% of sales for West Palm Beach-based foodservice distributor Jack T. Scalisi Wholesale Produce Distributors, said Jack Scalisi, president.

“Specialties are our strength,” he said. “There aren’t too many that we haven’t handled.”

Scalisi said he receives many requests for specialty produce items, especially with the sales he makes to people that distribute to yacht owners.

With the many yachts sailing from Europe to Florida’s east coast, the purveyors receive many requests for different items, he said.

“People that dine all over the world that come here for a month or two, they have identified that kind of cuisine we have here, such as Caribbean cuisine,” Scalisi said.

“There are certain names they are used to calling their specialty produce in Europe. We have to Google the terms to figure out what the names translates to here.”

Ethnic-based specialties, such as Hispanic specialties, have always seen high demand in south Florida.

Chefs working in high-end restaurants often want to try the items chefs running ethnic restaurants use.

Chefs working in the middle segment generally don’t use as many specialties, unless they work for a smaller regional chain, Scalisi said.