(Oct. 14) CLEVELAND — “Niche” has almost attained cliché status in produce circles.

But it’s also an operative word in the business plans of many produce vendors in Ohio and elsewhere.

“Every company has their own niches,” said Jeffrey Sanson, general manager of Cleveland-based wholesaler and distributor The Sanson Co. “That’s still true. But more and more people are larger and handle more items.”

Dan Patalita, sales manager for Cleveland wholesaler Economy Produce & Vegetable Co., agreed.

“Everybody has their own little niche in the market,” he said. “People have their own specialties, and everybody does pretty good on what item they handle the best.”

For Coosemans Cleveland Inc., the business focus is specialty items, but it also has adapted itself to the particular whims and tastes of the Cleveland consumer, said Greg Stegeman, general manager.

“Danny (Cooseman, chief executive officer of Miami-based Coosemans Worldwide Inc.), lets each office be an individual corporation,” he said. “He doesn’t impose any rules; he makes suggestions. He pretty much lets us make him money. He’s smart that way.”

Figuring out what one’s niche is can be a challenge because it sometimes changes, vendors say.

“Unless something happens, I’ll always be servicing a niche market and trying to find the next thing that’s going to happen,” said Tony DiNovo, president of Columbus wholesaler DNO Inc. “I’m continually looking for niches, looking for people who want stuff. It’s been a lot of ups and downs.”

Arena Produce Co., a medium-sized tomato repacker in Columbus, attempts to fill vacuums left by larger players, said Tony Arena, president.

“As far as the street goes, the big distributors have trouble getting the service that you need, and that’s kind of niche for the independent produce guys,” he said. “Last year for us, we added a cash-and-carry to what we do, which includes canned goods and Italian meats and cheeses. It’s for walk-ins, independents and the like. So we’re just kind of out there beating the streets.”

Roth Produce Co., a longtime wholesaler and distributor in Columbus, has found a niche in fruit baskets.

“There are businesses that send out baskets, like realtors, bankers, who send it out for businesses that they get in all year long; it’s not just the holidays,” said Arlene Roth, company president. “I have a couple of hotels now that I do all of their in-house baskets. They have important people staying with them, or conferences that request room baskets.”

The company offers baskets through its Web sites, www.bensonisbaskets.com and www.rothproduce.com.