1. Why do prices of fruit and vegetables change so often?
Answer: I can provide you with a quite simple two-word answer to this question. The weather.
Although that seems a little simplistic, you have to realize that most of the product that is being delivered to your establishment today, started as a seed anywhere from 60 to 120 days ago. A lot can happen in that period, movie stars can get married and divorced, fortunes can be made or lost on Wall Street, wars can start and end. However if there is any unpredictable spike in the weather during the gestation period of any of the crops in the ground, the product’s expected harvest date can be put off or pushed ahead. This in effects supply and when supply and demand are in flux, you have price changes. There are several other factors that can effect produce prices, but unless you have trouble sleeping I will spare you the details. Insomniacs can email firstname.lastname@example.org for further detailed explanation of every factor in the market that could cause produce prices to fluctuate. Trust me however, most of the time it is weather related.
2. I often see prices in grocery store ads that appear to be better than the ones that my supplier is delivering to me for. Should this be happening?
Answer: First of all, you should pay close attention to what the ad says. Maybe the store is offering you a price per pound, rather than a price per unit as most wholesale produce companies work with. When you multiply the pound price out times the weight in the case, the “deal” does not seem so great. Secondly there are a lot of times when stores offer extremely low prices on produce as a “loss leader.” That is they sell their product at exactly what it costs them to draw foot traffic into their store. Basically, with a few exceptions, even the most powerful grocery chains pay the same for produce at the wholesale level as most larger produce wholesalers. Certainly on any given item, special prices are generated, based on the farmer’s supply, and the demand. Realistically, however most price advantages that the largest companies gain from buying power, are eaten up by their higher warehousing and distribution costs. Thus the old adage “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
One other factor that my customers seem to ignore when they call with observations about this ad, or that price, is that we are consolidating the entire produce isle in our warehouse, and shipping to their door (not to mention sometimes waiting more than 30 days for payment) everything they wish for. There is no time wasted parking, selecting a cart, cashing out, and driving to and from the store (with its associated costs, gas, insurance, maintenance) When you think about it we really provide a great very cost effective service to our customers who receive delivery. Probably why we have been around for so many years.
3. With prices changing all the time, how do I know I am getting a good deal?
Answer: The answer to this question is not as straightforward or black and white. I guess it all starts with trust. Do you trust the person with whom you are doing business? Do you have a good business relationship? Are you the customer acting in good faith? There are thousands of angles in this business, where prices, and quality fluctuate on a daily basis. As an independent wholesaler I have the opportunity to sell product to any person at any price I wish, regardless of whether I am making a profit on each individual package, or the delivery as a whole. As a matter of fact some of my competitors use as an entry tactic, gifting entire orders or weeks of orders to establish themselves as the primary provider in a specific entity. Although I personally do not approve of this tactic, we do meet and exceed the competition where the situation warrants. However as a customer or potential customer, somewhere this “cost of doing business,” will probably reflect later on in your pricing structure. Again “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Most of the gimmick deals out there will eventually cost you. Thus it is very difficult to know if you are consistently getting the right price. My best advice is to establish a good working relationship with a firm that you trust, deal with them fairly and honestly, and try not to fall for gimmicks, especially those that feature low pricing for an extended period of time. These will always come back to haunt you.
4. What is the difference between using a wholesale produce company or buying produce from a multiple source grocer?
Answer: Okay this question is a little self-serving. Most of the companies that are produce specialist have been so for a long time. They have knowledge of the business that cannot be gained through textbooks. The fact that there are so many companies that have been around for so long, speaks volumes. Above all however one thing that you can count on from an independent produce company is SERVICE. Most companies offer 6 or 7 day per week delivery, no minimum orders, and same day or even rush delivery. Usually there is only one layer of management to go through before you reach the owner or President of the company. If you need to “make something happen” in your kitchen you are better off doing business with a small centralized company than a big conglomerate. Also any possible price advantage larger grocery companies offer you can be matched or beaten using superior knowledge and connections. Finally there is no reason to concentrate all of your credit on one source. Having several sources of credit, i.e. using several different food companies, allows for better cash flow. One stop shopping has many disadvantages.
5. What should I expect as far as shelf life from produce?
Answer: This business is a specialized for many reasons. The variables that go into providing good quality, flavorful, and extended shelf life for vegetables are several. Mastering all of these is nearly impossible. However here are a few ideas that may help. First of all order what you need when you need it. Stocking up on a particular item seldom pays off. For every day you keep produce in a non-specific environment, that is a multi use cooler or storeroom, the chances of waste increase exponentially. Almost each individual produce item has its own humidity and temperature requirements. Personally we have 6 different temperature controlled zones in our warehouse to store various fruit and vegetable items. I know of no establishment that prepares food, which has the proper facility for storage. Most have a multi use walk in cooler, and rely on the internal temperature of the storage area for the rest of the product. This really does not work for more than temporary quarters.
Second be careful about how you handle the product. Any throwing or manhandling of boxes, bags or cartons increases the chance of bruising, which will eventually lead to decay. Proper, almost delicate placement of product will increase the amount of time you are able to keep product from spoiling.
Third, make sure you look at what you have purchased when it is delivered. There are several companies who claim that their produce is “always the best.” This is a ridiculous claim that should be met with some scrutiny. Because of several factors I have mentioned above, including the weather where the product was grown, no one can ever claim perfection when it comes to produce. There will always be instances, no matter with whom you purchase product, that the quality may be less than your liking. Sometimes it is a function of the company personnel, sometimes it is due to improper handling or storage, and sometimes growing conditions do not allow for a superior product to be harvested. Again, as I tried to stress above, make sure you have a good relationship and trust the firm you employ as your supplier. It makes all the difference. The best thing to do when a product is not to your liking is to call your provider and ask if there is anything else available. If not then it is your choice to accept or refuse, but there are some instances where poor quality is unavoidable. Thus it becomes a business decision. If later, you realize that you did not yield what you wanted from a certain product, again take advantage of your good relationship with the company you deal with, and ask for credit. Although your supplier is probably losing money on the product, most good ones will try to satisfy your wishes.