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Taste Of Chicago

This year's market trends and hot commodities

Chi-Town Challenges
The rough patches encountered by Chicago suppliers are not much different from those faced by other U.S. produce businesses. “Our challenges are the same every year,” Weber states, rattling off the usual suspects: competition, weather, transportation, availability, collections, sales, food safety, personnel changes, and policy changes, to name a few.

“As always, we adapt,” Weber adds. “We work and figure out whatever needs to be done.”

He also says they’ve learned to foresee and react quickly to potential issues, particularly when it comes to pricing, quality, and availability.

“For example, if we anticipate a shor-tage of product, we’ll alert our accounts and have them order early,” Weber explains. “In the Chicago office, we have three managers with over 35 years of produce experience. I’m pretty sure we’ve experienced just about every produce-related challenge. This experience helps with the prediction process.”

Wandersee of Marchese says one of the toughest challenges of 2016 was a lack of demand for some items. “There was more product than demand, so things have been very, very cheap, and margins have been minimal.”

Election Jitters
Despite an often sluggish economy in 2016, most say business is already bouncing back. “Last year was a little slow, and think a lot of it had to do with the election,” Wandersee reflects, and he certainly isn’t alone in this belief.

Businesses across every industry blamed the economic slowdown on consumer anxiety surrounding the results of last year’s presidential election. In a survey released in June 2016, 60 percent of business economists said uncertainty about the November vote was damaging prospects for growth last year.

“It was certainly a polarizing election, no matter which side of the fence you were on,” comments Mark Pappas, president of Coosemans Chicago, Inc., part of the Coosemans Worldwide family of companies. “I don’t know if it was the political climate, but consistency was a challenge in the past year,” he admits, adding that he and his colleagues were always able to predict busy times in the past—but last year was different and perplexing.

“For example, the day after Thanksgiving, there’s a big push for Christmas for all the corporate parties. But a lot of that never materialized last year,” he shares. While the distributor was still able to meet its sales numbers, Pappas says the sales came from different areas in 2016.