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Alamo Abundance

The San Antonio region’s suppliers and retailers respond to surging demand in Texas and beyond
MS_Alamo Abundance

Central Market, a gourmet grocery store that also offers cooking classes and catering services, is H-E-B’s answer to Whole Foods. With nine locations around Texas, Central Market isn’t about to topple the Austin-based supermarket chain, but it’s a fierce local competitor for Lone Star hearts and minds. Perhaps this is why there are only two Whole Foods stores in San Antonio. Whether this changes under the new ownership is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, there are other natural and organic retailers, including Sprouts Farmers Market and Natural Grocers, who have found their niche and attracted a loyal following. As Lori Castillo, marketing director for NatureSweet Ltd., a San Antonio-based tomato grower-shipper points out, the demand for produce is only increasing.

“Consumer demand for fresh, easy, ready-to-use ingredients continues to be on the rise,” Castillo says. “Small tomato usage also continues to increase as consumers focus more on salads and other healthy, on-the-go products.”

Organics in Decline?
Healthy and fresh may be a priority, but surprisingly, organic doesn’t seem to be in the San Antonio area. According to Sid Williams, owner of Willson Davis Company, a broker-distributor on San Antonio’s wholesale market, the demand for organics is not booming but rather increasing slowly. For him and Willson Davis Company, it’s a question of balancing cost and volume.

“Everybody wants to talk about organic, but nobody wants to do anything about it,” Williams contends. “There’s not a lot of volume, so when you’re dealing in volume like we do, one box of organic lettuce isn’t worth it.”

Phil Huebner, chief operations officer of fresh-cut processor Fresh from Texas, LLC in San Antonio, hasn’t seen an increase, slow or otherwise, in demand for organics. Surprisingly, the company stopped handling organics about a year and a half ago after noticing demand was shrinking.

“For us, the commodity doesn’t have the shelf life, it’s more expensive to buy small quantities more frequently, and demand wasn’t enough to achieve economies of scale,” Huebner explains. “From a business perspective, we felt it wasn’t in our best interest to continue buying organics.”

On the other hand, Marco Hernandez, Midwest sales manager for Del Rey Avocado Company, Inc., which has multiple locations in California as well as branches in San Antonio and Vineland, NJ, says demand for organic avocados is higher now than for conventionally grown. Framed in the context that demand for avocados has been doubling every year for the past few years, this is rather impressive. At the end of last year, Del Rey had already sold 3.5 million boxes.