Summer in the City: Detroit Style

How the Comeback City’s revival impacts the trade

Tropical, exotic & ethnic produce items
As consumers and chefs experiment with a wider range of healthier foods, wholesalers are reaping the rewards.

“Even though it’s not a huge part of business, everybody wants to carry these items because the ethnic diversity across the region is demanding it,” points out Stone, adding that cooking shows are helping fuel the fire. “Food channels are showing consumers what to do with products they don’t even recognize, so they’re willing to try it.”

The diversity of Detroit’s various neighborhoods also impacts sales. For example, Riggio stocks Middle Eastern as well as Asian and European items. “Every market has its own demographic, and for us, we sell a lot of the Middle Eastern produce. We have stores and foodservice customers that service different pockets of town,” he says, with differing demographics and eating habits, “and we service them all.”

While organics are not a big mover in Detroit, wholesalers have seen an uptick this year—but not from an influx of new buyers. “Our current organic customers are selling more than ever,” Riggio says. “New customers for organics are up slightly, but the existing customers that always carry organics—their sales are definitely up.”

Better availability and lower prices are feeding the trend. “It seems like every two to three years, organic goes through a growth spurt, kind of plateaus, and then comes back,” he adds.

Even with the climb, however, organic sales are only a fraction of Riggio’s overall volume.

Retail Corner
The retail scene across Detroit and its surrounding suburbs remains highly competitive. From major national chains and regional retailers to independents and big box formats, new stores continue to pop up all over the state of Michigan.

“The retail landscape here is pretty healthy,” comments Riggio. “The big chain stores continue to expand; it seems they’re opening new stores all the time.”

Independents hold their own
Riggio says independent stores in the Detroit area are also thriving. “I wouldn’t say they’re adding stores at the same rate as the chain stores, but the better independents are always looking for that potential new location,” he explains. This escalation, he notes, has been a big part of Riggio Distribution’s growth over the past five to ten years.

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