The Vineland Produce Auction, which handles thousands of transactions from early April to late November, saw the sale of almost 6 million packages last year, according to credit manager Carole DeFoor.
“Our growers stay current with trends in the market and adjust their crops to meet the expected market demands,” DeFoor notes. Recently, she has seen a spike in ethnic produce items over more generic or staple crops. She believes “cooking channels, companies such as Blue Apron (which delivers portioned fresh ingredients to easily prepare meals) and healthy initiatives have helped in the sales of these types of produce.”
Land of Local
When timing matters, Jersey gets it right: it’s not uncommon for produce to be harvested in the morning and hit dinner plates the same day. The Jersey Fresh branding and marketing program has helped Garden State growers gain a strong foothold in communities large and small, with loyal customers who trust the well-known label.
Although the Jersey Fresh program is “the oldest state-specific marketing and branding program with 34 years of history behind it,” according to Beaver, local produce is still in the process of gaining recognition in some areas.
Any way you look at it, it’s good news. “Many consumers are becoming more aware and supportive of locally grown products,” confirms Flaim.
Bill Nardelli, Jr., in sales for Nardelli Brothers, Inc., believes the impetus for local produce and healthier eating has been building for some time—like the last five to ten years—and is certainly a win-win for New Jersey suppliers and the industry. “Consumers are more conscious of what they eat than ever before, and it’s a big advantage for us,” he shares.
“Everyone is looking for locally grown, especially in the Northeast,” comments John Molinelli, president of John Molinelli Inc. in Vineland, and Jersey and the entire Eastern Seaboard is teeming with “big promoters of local products” including the restaurant scene.
It’s not all good all the time though. Flaim says some retailers “would rather import product from other countries that have lower labor and distribution costs,” which certainly hurts local growers. Despite the pressure, however, “many of our loyal retailers stay true to supporting locally grown produce,” he says.
In the swirl of escalating retail competition, local growers still hold a strong advantage. “Growers marketing their products under the Jersey Fresh label have a leg up,” posits Beaver. “Our market research shows year after year that buyers are greatly aware of the Jersey Fresh brand and seek it out in season.”