Bostonians strategize about local food
BOSTON — Eating, buying and selling local produce is a desirable goal for many Bostonians, but it’s not a simple one.
Retailers lean toward local procurement provided, quality-wise, it’s there, the Northeast region’s fresh produce professionals say.
But local or not, “their first concern is quality,” said Peter Resteghini, a buyer and seller at the 4M Fruit Distributors sales showroom at the New England Produce Center, Chelsea.
The buyers who source from their local wholesale markets are a conscientious lot.
“This is the guy who will come in and cut a honeydew and taste it before buying it,” Resteghini said.
For instance, when there was a bad crop of local peaches a few years ago, they still sourced from afar despite customer demand for local. It’s a sliding scale.
When it’s peak local produce season in the New England area, business slows at the tomato repacking division of Peter Condakes Co., Chelsea, said Stephen J. Condakes, vice president and marketing director of the receiver, packer, distributor and wholesaler.
“The local product this time of year always digs into our trade. We expect it, and we adjust for it,” Condakes said about the repacking. But the company’s wholesale divisions still have local suppliers.
Compared to other regions in the U.S., Boston is characterized by smaller retail companies, more independents and higher-end grocers.
These buyers, sellers and other business contacts are using Instagram to showcase their beautiful local produce, said Tommy J. Piazza of Community-Suffolk Inc. in the Everett-based Boston Market Terminal.
“It puts it out there more and people see it,” Piazza said.
These are buyers who often go for flavor over a longer shelf life to differentiate their stores from the big guys.
“But there are no set rules. Everything costs more these days, so if you don’t sell it, it’s a loss,” Resteghini said.
Everett-based Ruma Fruit and Produce specializes in fiddleheads that grow in western Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Canada, as well as wild Maine blueberries, the small kind that go in pies, said Jim Ruma, president.
“Fiddleheads are a big market for us, even though it’s a short season, as well as the blueberries,” Ruma said.
“These local pickers showed up at our dock one day, so we packed and shipped them, and then they kept coming.”
The blueberries go to regional chain stores.
“That model of procurement has reversed back to the local region, and that’s helped all of us. Now we’re back to being really close to our buyers,” Aguiar said.
In Boston, like elsewhere, the trends are local, organics, sustainable packaging and brand identity, and companies can use the local farm name or point of origin as a selling point.
“Everybody’s trying to differentiate themselves with more graphic labels,” Resteghini said.
Retail buyers are ordering more strategically too, Resteghini said, buying two loads a week versus the three or four loads they used to buy from other sources, and then filling in with local wholesalers like 4M when they need to.
There’s a lot more speculation and risk these days, dealing with customers who need last-minute retail fill-in orders, trucks arriving on time, questions of getting creditized.
“We always need rolling inventory,” he said.