DES MOINES, Iowa — Produce distributors in the Des Moines and Kansas City areas continue to grow, despite continuing economic woes, high fuel costs and other headaches.

“It’s been a challenging year for a lot of reasons,” said Gene Loffredo, president and chief executive officer of Des Moines-based Loffredo Fresh Produce Co.

Chief among those, Loffredo said, are high fuel costs, thinner margins and requirements from customers that Loffredo Fresh Produce integrate its software systems with theirs.

Nonetheless, Loffredo Fresh Produce continues to grow, and there are bright spots, such as foodservice growth, Loffredo said.

Category growth is up overall from last year, and in Kansas City, it’s up 8% from 2010.

The immanent opening of a Seasons 52 restaurant, which is known for its fresh fruits and vegetables, on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza is a recent highlight, he said.

“The Kansas City market is really growing its upscale business every year,” Loffredo said.

Most of Loffredo Fresh Produce’s foodservice gains have been with chain restaurants.

The fresh produce industry isn’t recession-proof, said Scott Danner, chief operating officer of Kansas City, Kan.-based Liberty Fruit Co.

That said, Liberty Fruit expects to achieve another year of double-digit sales growth in 2011, Danner said.

Much of the company’s growth this year comes from a recent contract it signed this summer with Dallas-based Hardie’s Fruit & Vegetable Co. LP, Danner said.

Hardie’s was awarded a two-year contract to supply all fresh produce to 33 U.S. military commissaries in nine states. Liberty Fruit is one of three suppliers partnering with Hardie’s on the deal.

Even during economic down times, Liberty Fruit finds ways to grow, Danner said, thanks to the vision of its owner, Arnold Caviar.

“He’s still looking forward,” Danner said of Caviar.

“He doesn’t like to sit back, and he’s set the company up for the next generation.”

Also driving growth over the coming year at Liberty Fruit will be the company’s revamped repack operation, Danner said. A major expansion last year focused on expanding the company’s repack capacity.

“Repack is set up now to be much more productive,” he said.

Des Moines, Omaha and other markets supplied by Norwalk, Iowa-based Capital City Fruit Inc. haven’t been hit as hard by the economic downturn as other areas of the country, said Brendan Comito, the company’s chief operating officer.

For example, the last time he checked, Des Moines-area restaurants were packed.

That said, “it’s still a challenging time,” Comito said.

“It would help if fuel costs came off a bit.”

But Capital City has managed to boost its volumes up over last year, he said.

“We’re doing pretty good.”

If things weren’t looking up, Capital City wouldn’t be making plans to move next year, Comito said.

The company expects to break ground on a new, larger facility in September, and to move in to it by May.