The trends toward locally grown produce and sustainability are alive and well in the Los Angeles market.
“Local has become really hot,” said Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Bridgeport, N.J.-based Albert’s Organics Inc., which has a branch in Vernon, Calif., near Los Angeles.
Albert’s Organics has sourced product locally since the company opened in 1982, he said.
As part of its Local Growers Program, the firm works with small and local family farms nationwide and continues to recruit local growers, Weinstein said.
Albert’s Organics offers a wide selection of locally grown seasonal items and helps retailers identify local products by providing point-of-sale signs that tell which farm grew each commodity.
Los Angeles-based Coast Produce Co.’s Farmer’s Select program tells the story of its growers and “puts a face behind the food,” said Emily Fragoso, marketing manager.
A group of merchandisers takes the program to retailers and offers point-of-sale materials, discusses growing regions, talks about the benefits of the products and helps arrange in-store demonstrations, sometimes inviting growers themselves to participate.
Several customers have asked Progressive Produce Corp. in Los Angeles to label its locally grown products as such, said vice president of sales Jack Gyben.
“Customers are asking for it, and, where it’s appropriate, we are providing it,” he said.
The company complies by including U.S. flags on the product and offering other packaging options.
The company started out by focusing on locally grown potatoes and is looking to move into its other commodities, Gyben said.
There always been an interest in locally grown produce in certain parts of the U.S., said Dennis Berman, president of Bandwagon Brokerage in Los Angeles.
The interest has increased recently as more consumers seek out local produce because of the publicity the trend is receiving, he said.
“It’s better for their business when clients see something from their state,” Berman said.
Sometimes the demand for local produce can cut into the company’s business, he said. But a problem that retailers face is that often small, local growers don’t have the funds to implement adequate food safety procedures, making it hard to “provide product that isn’t a risk in the health arena.”
This creates a challenge for the produce industry at a time when grower-shippers are working hard to provide safe, clean product, he said.
Sustainability is another trend Los Angeles area shippers are into.
Coast Produce Co. recognizes the importance of sustainability and has implemented recycling projects and cost-neutral programs like installing systems that turn off lights automatically, Fragoso said.
The company has renegotiated the terms of its trash delivery agreement to make the process more efficient, she said.
“We’re taking the initiative and doing the best we can do,” Fragoso said.
To help operate its company in a sustainable manner, Albert’s Organics has opened a location in Charlotte, N.C., to complement its New Jersey and Florida branches, Weinstein said.
By opening the Charlotte division, trucks are driving 400,000 fewer miles and creating a much smaller carbon footprint than if they were servicing the region from New Jersey or Florida, he said.
Besides driving fewer miles, the company has created new opportunities for local and regional growers, he added.