Atlanta’s proximity to numerous growing regions allows distributors to promote some of their produce as locally and regionally grown.

Within 250 miles of the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga., are Georgia and South Carolina peaches and watermelon, Vidalia sweet onions, south Georgia vegetables, north Florida potatoes and tomatoes, Tennessee green beans and many other commodities.

‘Part of the everyday language’

A longtime organics leader, Forest Park-based Destiny Organics markets a variety of local and regional items.

Diana Earwood, Destiny’s general manager and general manager of the produce division for Atlanta-based Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., said Destiny entered the local deal years ago when few were engaged in distributing such product.

“What I see is a lot of people like to use local,” Earwood said. “It’s becoming part of the everyday language. It’s nice to be a part of a company that’s been on the forefront of it and able to take it further.

“It’s not just about having a pretty website and great marketing materials, which are definitely essential, but it’s a lot more, like being in touch with farmers and talking with them to see what they have so you can convey to your customers what’s available.”

Earwood said Sutherland’s and Destiny consider Georgia produce as well as product from surrounding states as local.

Forest Park-based Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., and its sister company, Collins Bros. Corp., recently started a weekly customer newsletter that highlights locally grown produce.

David Collins III, Phoenix’s president, said the close geographic presence of locally grown helps sustainability efforts.

“Local is something that we have made some good inroads in,” Collins said. “More and more people are interested in it. ... When you look from Atlanta and go out no more than eight hours, we consider that our local deal.”

Georgia Grown displays sell

Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Atlanta, said the Georgia Department of Agriculture strengthened its Georgia Grown program this year.

Retail signs and displays help move more local product, said Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. Inc., Atlanta.

He said shoppers are more likely to place local and regional produce in their shopping carts if retailers erect larger displays.

“There’s not necessarily more interest, but the supermarkets are making (shoppers) more aware of the local,” Gregory said. “The promotion of local helps our industry a lot. Everyone, even if they’re not in a Kroger or a Publix, they’re still asking the independents if the product is Georgia grown. Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, they’re all doing good pushing the retailers to advertise more local grown.”

A Midwest native, Howard Mundt, president of Harvest Brokerage, Atlanta, said Detroit had fruit stands on many corners while such stores are making a comeback in Chicago.

He said interest in farmers’ markets hasn’t increased that much in the Atlanta area but points to the DeKalb Farmers Market, which attracts shoppers.

“Customers want to feature regional and local produce,” Mundt said. “Walk into any Kroger or Publix store and you see local. They will stay with the local product because it’s cheaper.”

Cliff Sherman, owner of Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., Forest Park, said demand may be overblown.

“We’re not seeing demand,” he said. “A lot of people are screaming local but they go with what works best for them. I don’t think it really matters that much.”