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Grocery & Clothing Wholesalers Stock Up As Market Demand Rises

Audio

Aired 5/13/11

Food, produce and clothing sales have been increasing steadily, prompting wholesale suppliers to boost inventory levels as they anticipate more business from retail clients.

— There are signs our economy is picking up. Suppliers have been stocking up on everything from peaches to nursing uniforms.

Bob Harrington is the President of Specialty Produce, a family-owned produce firm that supplies local restaurants and caterers.
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Above: Bob Harrington is the President of Specialty Produce, a family-owned produce firm that supplies local restaurants and caterers.

Stock and sales levels hit a low point in late 2009. But now, wholesale inventory and sales are at the highest levels since their 2008 peak, according to the Commerce Department, and suppliers have been stocking up in response to market demand.

Groceries and clothing are two categories that have done well, despite rising prices.

“Demand for us has increased probably about 17 to 20 percent, and with that we’ve incorporated a third manufacturer, we normally only use two manufacturers,” said Rick Bigelow, COO of Dove Apparel, a supplier of uniforms for nursing students.

Bigelow attributed the demand to a shifting job market, with more students applying to nursing schools. Dove, which is located in the Clairemont Mesa area, supplies nursing schools across the country and sources uniforms from suppliers in California and Mexico.

While summer is typically when sales pick up for many wholesale distributors in cyclical industries, suppliers have noticed an uptick over and above the normal seasonal increase.

At Specialty Produce, Bob Harrington has seen a similar boost to the produce business he and his brothers own. They supply several hundred restaurants, catering companies and private chefs with fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“We’re seeing more demand for staples and demand for higher quality staples. So they’re looking more for items that are less expensive to purchase, easy to store and easy to work with in the kitchen,” said Harrington, president of the family-owned firm.

His family has been in the produce business for more than 30 years. The warehouse is located in the Old Town area close to the airport and is also open to the public.

Harrington said he tries to buy local as much as possible, from about 75 farms in the region and within California. He does, however, import specialty items from places like Central America and New Zealand.

Most of his customers, eateries like Market Restaurant in Del Mar, are long-timers who know how to adapt to the market, Harrington said, which is why they have been able to sustain demand and manage the ups and downs.

“I think change is always an opportunity. For good operators who have lots of experience and they see change in the marketplace, that’s an opportunity for them. And a lot of people who own restaurants in San Diego are really very astute and they’re good observers and they make those adjustments right away,” Harrington said.

Both Bigelow and Harrington said they expect this uptick to continue through the rest of the year.

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