ST. LOUIS — The foodservice industry in the Gateway City has been hurt by the economic recession just like every other city across the U.S.
But perhaps not as much.
In this city, foodservice has an environment that has its specific riches that tend to lure in customers. Exhibit A: The recent Major League Baseball All-Star Game July 14 at the new Busch Stadium on the eastern side of downtown.
For one night — actually a couple if the made-for-TV Home Run Derby is taken into account — St. Louis, and its seemingly endless list of good restaurants and bars, was in the national spotlight.
Judging from the sales boosts generated by past national events, like the 2005 NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball championship, held at the Edward Jones Dome, and a PGA golf tournament last summer at Bellerive Country Club, produce suppliers, shippers, brokers and retail chains were looking forward to a jump in sales during the week.
“It’s good for the city,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc. “Tourism is good for foodservice downtown.
“We find when it’s good for us is when it’s on TV. There are party events at home. It’s always good for us. You see a lot more produce trays at parties nowadays. People are thinking more about health.”
Jeff Moore, vice president-sales, Midwest region for Tom Lange Co. Inc., said he can always tell when a big event is coming to town.
“We usually see our sales a week ahead, or two, increase,” Moore said. “One guy who typically orders three pallets of cantaloupes now orders five. We’ll take all the all-star games, PGA tournaments and Final Fours that they want to send our way.”
Even when there isn’t a big, national event, St. Louis has plenty of attractions, such as the world-famous Gateway Arch and a zoo rated one of the best in the country, which typically bring in a good deal of tourism, especially during the summer months.
“There’s a big party downtown,” said Charles Gallagher Sr., chairman of the board for United Fruit & Produce Co. “We gear up our business when they gear up their business.”
Such events couldn’t come at a better time for a segment of the industry that needs an injection of positive sales.
“We’ve had some foodservice customers maintain and grow, some others go down,” Moore said. “People are not spending as much, not eating as much at restaurants. It all just depends on what the niche is.”