The protection greenhouses offer goes only so far — a persistently troubled U.S. economy has crept into the business, according to some shippers of Mexico product.

“Definitely, you can see evidence of that, for sure, as far as people’s buying habits all the way down to the consumer level,” said Gregg Biada, vice president of Bonita Springs, Fla.-based Global Fresh Import & Export, a subsidiary of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co.

“Everybody is watching their dollar, so there’s definitely an impact on it.”

Price point has taken on more importance, but it’s also at times incidental, said Chuck Ciruli, partner with Rio Rico, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros.

“I think whatever the retailers decide to promote is where the volume is,” he said.

“Whatever they’re putting is usually cheap because it’s a promotional item and that’s where the volume is. I think people are taking those items and buying what’s on sale.”

Some growers and shippers said the economic downturn has forced some changes in buying habits, but volumes haven’t changed.

“The stock market, I think, impacts individual consumers, and it all boils down to the decisions they make in their trips to the grocery store,” said Mike Aiton, marketing director for Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif.

“I think buyers are a lot more concerned about buying a little bit closer, just-in-time delivery, taking care that the inventory is turning and they’re not getting long on any product. In a lot of ways, I think that’s kind of helped wholesalers and street people a little bit by paying more shorts they’re able to fill.”

All told, the economy hasn’t left much of a negative effect on growers and shippers, said Jaime Garza, owner of Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Co. Inc.

“What we think happens during hard times is people tend to buy and eat home instead of going out to eat,” he said.

“People are being more careful of what they buy.”

During hard times, consumer tend to buy less product but pick up those smaller quantities more often, Garza said.

“They buy less but more times,” he said.

Some shippers said they had a good year.

“For us, it hasn’t slowed down our double-digit growth,” said Bobby Patton, vice president of marketing with San Antonio, Texas-based NatureSweet Ltd., formerly known as Desert Glory.

“There’s so much growth opportunity with fresh tomatoes. It has a tailwind behind it from trends like consumers and freshness and vegetables and fruits being underdeveloped in consumption. We haven’t had an impact from it.”

Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Nogales-based Apache Produce, reported similar results.

“This year was a good year,” he said. “We didn’t feel that much of it. We’ve seen it worse.”