Demand for specialties in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., market might be shrinking because of the economy, but for many ethnic consumers, what Americans consider a specialty, they consider a staple item.
Suppliers who specifically cater to Asian and Hispanic markets, or those who have expanded their reach as ethnic chains have taken off, are finding a reliable outlet for a variety of products.
“They are definitely specialties to us — a lot of people have not seen this kind of produce before — but to the immigrants, it’s not a specialty,” said James Campbell, night sales manager for Coosemans D.C. Inc., Jessup, Md.
He explained that the changing landscape of the area has brought a diversity of people from Asian and Central American countries, and with them a “very high demand for ethnic produce.”
Campbell also said a popular area chain, Supervalu, is competing in an effort to capture some of the market share.
Campbell explained that many buy No. 2 items instead of No. 1s in an effort to save money in the down economy.
“It could be a baby beats versus baby greens. Beats are fine, but the baby greens are not so hot, or attractive,” he said. “You’re not seeing expenditures of the past where people were buying high-end items.”
T.J. Rahll, office manager for Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., Jessup, said the overall growth of tropicals is still strong thanks to the ethnic demand.
“The tropical market gets bigger and bigger every year due to the influx of Hispanics and Asians,” he said. “But as far as something we’re handling, we’re not trying to push it to everyday customers.”
John Gates, president of Lancaster Foods Inc., Jessup, agreed that ethnic groceries account for a growing side of the business, especially in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
Gates said sales of produce particular to specific cultures are increasing.
“Hispanics, a lot of root vegetables, a lot of fruit in general. Asians, a lot of oriental-type stuff,” he said, adding that he specifically caters to the ethnic groups.
“To them, they are not specialty items, they are regular items.”
Gates said that the word “specialty” has the connotation that the item is rare or expensive, and that is not the case.
“Many of these items are staples for these cultures and they want them to be priced competitively,” he said. “As demand increases and production increases, it becomes more competitive.”
Jason Lambright, president of Little Lamb Produce Inc., Jessup, said vendors who don’t adapt to the changing demographic have a lot to lose.
“They are hard-headed and they are old. They don’t recognize the amount of Hispanics and Asians that are in northern Virginia and Maryland,” Lambright said.