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Making a Splash

Checking in at the Chicago International Produce Market

Despite the plentitude of fresh produce, there are still ‘food deserts’ within the Chicagoland area. Merchants at the CIPM have long been involved with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which delivers food from a number of sources, including the CIPM, to a network of pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and mobile programs.

The Food Depository was founded in 1979 by concerned Chicagoans including one of their own, Robert Strube, Sr., who was not only an active ambassador for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry through radio spots and chairing trade committees, but ran the family owned and operated Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, one of the market’s anchors and the oldest licensed produce wholesaler in the Chicago area.

A bit beyond the distribution and reach of the Food Depository is a newer concept—the mobile produce market—currently in use in Chicago and other cities.

Chicago’s version is a reconditioned Chicago Transit Authority bus filled with fruit and vegetables, operated by a nonprofit group called Fresh Moves. The bus travels around the city, stopping in hard-hit neighborhoods, schools, and community centers. Though the mobile program suffered some setbacks with costs and sourcing, group and community leaders hope it will be able to expand its reach in 2014 and beyond.

Distribution Shuffle
For some distributors, business is booming. “Over the last year, we have expanded with more contract foodservice business,” says Roger Riehm, owner of Blue Creek Produce, a produce distributor specializing in tomatoes, based in the western suburb of St. Charles, Illinois.

“Last year was a fairly decent year for us,” says Dietz & Kolodenko’s Gaglione. “We really cater to the independents in Chicago—the small chains are our bread and butter, and they come down to the market every day. Right now, the independent stores like Mariano’s are moving in and increasing, so that’s good for us.”

The Chicagoland area has seen a flurry of retail activity in recent months, much spurred by the closure of the underperforming Dominick’s Finer Foods grocery chain. The once-popular chain, founded in 1918 by Dominick DiMatteo, had fallen victim to the economy, stepped up competition, and union woes.