Despite Atlanta being a city with many dining opportunities, produce sales to the restaurant segment have slipped, distributors said.

While not immune from the slower economy, other wholesalers, however, say the category has held its own.

Some report sales to foodservice purveyors and dining establishments have even increased in the first half of 2009.

Mike Jardina, president of J.J. Jardina Co. Inc., Atlanta, said fewer sales to foodservice purveyors have become apparent.

“I definitely can see a difference from this time last year, as business doesn’t come to you as quickly,” he said. “You have to go out and get the business and work it a little harder.”

The other part, Jardina said, is the amount of slow-pays.

He and other distributors are paying closer attention to their accounts receivables. He said today’s economic times demand closer attention to customer payments.

Jardina said he sells to some restaurant purveyors that are not out of business yet but are pretty close.

“It’s just trickier, who you want to sell to and who you don’t want to sell to more so than ever,” Jardina said. “It’s all about money. People seem to still be eating the same amount of produce as they were before, but it’s all about the strength of the companies that are selling it.”

While many distributors report slower foodservice sector sales, Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., Atlanta, has grown its restaurant sales, said Charidee Anderson, a buyer. Anderson attributes the sales strength to the foodservice-focused distributor’s flexibility and ability to service its customers.

Anderson said some foodservice segments are doing better financially than others.

“The casual dining is doing better than white tablecloth, but fast food is doing better than casual,” she said. “That’s what we hear at the food shows. There has been a bigger increase in the casual dining and in the institutions as opposed to white tablecloth. With cutbacks like everyone else, the institutions are seeking better pricing, quality and relationships.”

Though Coosemans Atlanta Inc. doesn’t sell to restaurants directly, Brian Young, general manager, said he has seen a slowdown of business with the mainstream eateries.

“As much as our sales are up (overall), the revenues are not quite as high,” he said. “As with everything else, prices aren’t as strong and are more easily negotiated now. People are working on the same numbers. It’s more competitive to retain your business. The revenues are down because everyone is sharpening their pencils to do everything they can to retain the business they currently have.”

Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., Atlanta, distributes to some foodservice purveyors as well as directly to some restaurant customers.

“Orders are off a little,” said Cliff Sherman, owner. “Instead of ordering 10 boxes at a time, they’ll order six to seven boxes.  But it’s nothing too drastic to get excited over