TAMPA, Fla. — Florida produce wholesalers say they’re positioned to benefit from all the favorable buzz surrounding the benefits of eating fresh produce.

Nutritionists and government officials encouraging Americans to eat more fresh can only help the business, distributors say.

Chuck Bruno, vice president and general manager of DiMare Fresh-Tampa Inc., Riverview, sees the general trend of increasing produce consumption.

“All of these produce companies in this state, we’re all on the same team in respect to promoting fresh fruits and vegetables regardless of the items we do or don’t offer,” he said. “It’s all the same thing.

“Educating schoolchildren so they eat nutritious meals containing fruits and vegetables can carry on for a lifetime.”

Robert Ondrus, director of category management for produce for U.S. Foodservice Inc., Rosemont, Ill., said Florida’s theme parks and schools are developing tastes for fresh produce.

“You look at places like Disney World — all the theme parks are looking for more healthy and nutritious foods,” Ondrus said. “Many are taking french fries off the menus for kids and are doing different things like offering apple and orange slices and pineapple pushups.

“They’re looking for highly nutritious foods that are easy to use and handle easily.”

Ondrus said schools also are requesting more local products.

“They’re doing more with produce, and they want to have locally grown products,” Ondrus said. “The schools are interested in local. In this state, a child can really say he’s eating his dad’s oranges and lettuce. People are very proud of their produce.”

Ondrus said U.S. Foodservice works closely with growers to provide local product to the schools.

Though schools generally aren’t a fertile ground for specialty produce, Justin Warren, general manager of Coosemans Tampa Inc., said he’s receiving many calls from customers who serve schools.

Because school systems source product through foodservice purveyors, Warren said Coosemans doesn’t distribute directly to the schools.

“We have had some very large orders for starfruit and clementines, fruit that kids may not have seen,” Warren said.

“They’ll buy a pallet quantity of starfruit and trust me to bring that in for them, that it’s right and will fill the school order they have. That has been a big one lately. There have been a lot of orders.”

Specialties demand remains strong, said Jack Scalisi, president of Jack T. Scalisi Wholesale Produce Distributors, West Palm Beach.

“We are selling more specialties than ever with the lines we handle,” Scalisi said. “We get a lot of trade coming in from Europe. They want all the different items like endives and salsify, the oyster root item from Belgium.

“Specialties are definitely making a big comeback.”

Scalisi sells a variety of specialties, including microsprouts, exotic mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes.

Increasing consumption should benefit the industry but not every part of the deal, said Seth Movsovitz, vice president and part owner of Produce Distribution Center LLC, Jacksonville.

“It will probably grow in certain areas more so than others,” he said. “It’s not as inexpensive as it used to be, and it adds up for an average family to go to a grocery store and purchase fresh produce. They don’t buy as much when adverse market conditions cause higher prices.”

The Produce Distribution Center trucks produce along the northern Florida East Coast, to north central Florida customers in Gainesville, west to Lake City, at Interstate 75, and to Brunswick, Ga.-area foodservice customers.

James Killebrew, vice president of Baird Produce Inc., called specialties demand slow.

“It does pick up a little this time of the year, as there are more people here, the snowbirds,” he said in mid-December. “But overall, it’s down a little like everything else because it’s a higher-end item.”

Killebrew characterized specialties demand declining by as much as 20%.