Produce wholesalers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have a choice of large and small retail customers, which they say keeps the market vibrant.

Building a successful trade with retail customers involves more than making deals — it’s an active partnership after the sale, said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer of New Brighton, Minn.-based H. Brooks & Co., one of the oldest wholesale produce dealers in the Twin Cities area.

“You build it by being tuned into what consumers are looking for and making that easy for the people that face them, the people that are in the stores,” Brooks said.

That’s done by building relationships beyond the peripheries of sales, Brooks said.

“I think sometimes the business gets thought about through the buy side of the supply chain, but it’s also important to think it through the consumer and what the consumer is looking for that helps them be healthier,” he said.

H.L. Brooks & Co. makes a point of understanding the end-user, he said.

“We’re known for understanding the consumers and being able to give good advice to stores to deliver that,” Brooks said.

“At the front of the credits you have some movie stars, and at the end credits, you have all the people behind the scenes. For us, we’re successful because of all the work behind the scenes,” he said.

That philosophy also is active at Inver Heights, Minn.-based North Country Produce and its Wadena, Minn.-based parent, Russ Davis Wholesale, said Adam Gamble, general manager of North Country.

“We have a lot of partnerships out there with bigger chains and independent retailers and, with a lot of our customers, we service 100% of their needs for produce,” he said.

It’s a successful approach, Gamble said.

“We see growth in our business as they open new stores,” he said.

The Twin Cities area has a number of independent stores and cooperatives. The Wedge Community Co-op, a single-store operation in Minneapolis, finds itself competing against major chains, such as Target and Cub Foods, as well as a host of others.

The Wedge stays apace with the larger competitors by offering, when possible, product it grows on its own farm, or procures from partner growers, said Dean Schladweiler, produce manager.

“We get orders twice a day, so, we have plenty of availability to have the food here fresh,” he said.

The Wedge has an active product-sampling program, which Schladweiler described as “coordinated demos.”

“We create a meal in the store and they sample it and we put it on a recipe card and we put it out to the public,” he said.

Big, attention-getting displays work well at Kowalski’s Markets, a nine-store retail chain based in Woodbury, Minn., said Tim Fortier, produce manager.

“We like to do big massive, one, maybe two-item displays, especially for our sales,” he said.

The store finds some of its shoppers look for low prices but others have different priorities, and it’s the store’s job to meet the needs of both, Fortier said.

“If people want something, they want it,” he said.

“We’ve got things we’ve carried in the past that are unique,” Fortier said.