(Aug. 8) INDIANAPOLIS — After decentralizing and dwindling to a few major players, the Indianapolis produce market has expanded its programs and regional reach.

But the decentralized market can limit choices for customers, said Marcus Agresta, director of marketing and business development for Piazza Produce Inc.

Instead of walking from company to company on a centralized market, customers would have to drive across town. Unfortunately, a driver likely won’t stop five or six times in one city, Agresta said.

Today, the market consists of two major retail distributors and two major foodservice distributors, said Pete Piazza, president of Piazza Produce Inc.

Caito Foods Service Inc. and Indianapolis Fruit Co. Inc. comprise most of the city’s retail business, while Circle City Produce and Piazza Produce get most of the foodservice segment, Agresta said.

In the past 20 years, several Indianapolis produce companies have folded, said Joe Ray Sr., vice president of Ray & Mascari Inc., a tomato repacker.

“It started to shrink, and the bigger companies seem to be getting bigger,” Ray Sr. said.

FOODSERVICE TRENDS

Foodservice giant Piazza Produce aims to increase its regional program, Piazza said. In the past five years, the foodservice distributor has tried to increase its distribution to chain restaurants outside of Indianapolis, Piazza said.

As the sister company of retail distributor Indianapolis Fruit, Piazza Produce focuses on foodservice.

As for organic produce, a few hospitals and universities request it, Agresta said. Organic comprises less than 1% of the company’s sales, but Agresta said the distributor’s organic business should double each year.

If restaurants decide to source organic, Agresta said the first item sourced will likely be lettuces, such as organic arugula or organic spinach.

“When you’re just talking about making cost, if you spread it out into a salad it’s only pennies more on food costs, versus nickels and dimes,” Agresta said.

From independent restaurants to Tex-Mex chains, Agresta said Hispanic produce items make up the fastest-growing ethnic specialty segment. Piazza typically provides avocados, cilantro, peppers, jalapenos, green peppers, onions and lettuce to Mexican restaurants, Agresta said.

And it seems Indianapolis is facing a trend observed in a July 23 USA Today article, which said sales at casual dining restaurants, such as Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory, are suffering. The article cited rising gas costs, upgraded fast food choices and higher credit card interest rates as contributing factors.

In Indianapolis, Agresta said upgraded fast food options — such as Panera Bread Co. and Noodles & Co. — are growing.

“It’s less expensive, but they’re getting that what they would value,” Agresta said. “It’s not fast food, but it’s not a higher-end chain, so they still feel like they’re getting a quality product.”

RETAIL TRENDS

The city’s retail scene doesn’t make much room for smaller independent stores, said Bob Kirch, purchasing director for retail distributor Caito Foods.

Kroger, Marsh Supermarkets and Target mark the city’s retail landscape, Kirch said.

Rocky Ray, treasurer of Ray & Mascari, agreed that such large retailers are creating business, but he said Indianapolis also demands the smaller, more independent retailers. Ray & Mascari distributes equally to retailers and restaurants.

The fastest-growing demographic in retail is the Hispanic segment, Kirch said.

“They want the right value and they do a lot of cooking at home,” Kirch said. “They’re your ideal shopper for any produce wholesaler or retailer.”

Fewer players reach further in Indy market
Indianapolis-based Ray & Mascari, a tomato re-packer, distributes to retail and foodservice, says treasurer Rocky Ray.