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Through this year, Chicago-based Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. has increased Hispanic produce sales.

Lisa Strube, the firm's director of finance and administration, told The Produce News Aug. 12 that her company had a slow start in boosting Hispanic produce sales in February 2010. In June, Strube Celery added a full-time, Spanish-speaking salesperson, Gustavo Rosales, who understands the Hispanic culture. This understanding, Ms. Strube said, is important for educating mainstream retail customers and for relating to Hispanic supermarket operators.

"We are definitely carrying more of that line now," Ms. Strube said. The presence of Mr. Rosales “is allowing us to focus on Hispanic items.” Generally, Strube Celery’s “foundation is small, independent grocery stores,” but beyond that, the firm has increasingly added Hispanic stores to its customer mix.

“We are working with some of the larger retailers and independents and doing some merchandising for them to build Hispanic departments” because non- Hispanic population sectors increasingly enjoy fresh produce items coming from the Hispanic culture, Ms. Strube said. In mainstream stores, produce managers and thereby consumers are taught how to cut mangos and papayas and how to prepare other Hispanic items.

She noted that Mr. Rosales literally and figuratively “speaks the same language” as those involved with the Hispanic trade. In conversations with Hispanic customers, “the language can be a true barrier,” she said. “To have someone who can speak the language and understand customers can be very helpful.”

For Hispanic items, “we are getting pretty good volume on full-case sales” of items like avocados, tomatillos, jicama and Jalapeños. “We don’t do much processed or value-added yet. The Hispanic market tends to like fresh. The consumers want their hands on the Jalapeños.”

Ms. Strube said that her firm has also increased its emphasis on tomato repacking and sales this year. That commodity enjoyed a very hot market early in 2010.

Also in 2010, “The fruit department has been very strong. We are going into the busy season, especially with local product.”

Ms. Strube said that the overall Chicago economy is improving, which is reflected on the Chicago International Produce Market.

For Strube Celery, foodservice sales are “a small portion” of the firm’s total business. “Our customers supply foodservice guys. We do a decent portion” of sales to the foodservice trade, but “our strength is definitely on the retail side.”

Ms. Strube concluded, “We are looking forward to finishing the year strong. We are looking forward to a good second half here.”