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Wholesale distributor Albert's Organics, headquartered in Santa Cruz, CA, has focused exclusively on organics since the day the company began in 1982. Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing, said that Albert’s carries a complete and full selection of well over 300 produce items. "Currently we are promoting organic blueberries from Chile and organic mangos from Peru," he said. “We’re also promoting winter citrus, but we often work on getting our customers excited about the non-seasonal items from southlands that offer a bit of a taste of summer during the cold winter season.”

Albert’s dedicated national procurement team sources all its products nationally and internationally. The company’s line is distributed by its eight distribution centers in the United States.

“We also place a strong emphasis on locally and regionally grown food, and our buyers at each division do an excellent job of working with growers that are local to their areas,” Mr. Weinstein added. We service all categories — from retailers to foodservice and industrial customers. When Albert’s began, the majority of its customers were natural foods stores. Today we have a nice balance in our customer base of natural food stores, chain supermarkets, restaurants and foodservice groups, as well as industrial operations.”

Mr. Weinstein acknowledged that the past three years have been tough for the American economy, but he said that indications and forecasts from most economists suggest there will be an uptick in 2011.

“That’s good news for everyone,” he said. “Throughout this economic downturn, the organic industry has performed better than most. Sure, shoppers adjusted their buying patterns, and numbers weren’t as strong for the overall industry as they had been in recent years, but most ailing industries would have been quite pleased with the overall performance of the organic industry.”

For retailers, according to Mr. Weinstein, the past three years presented several economic challenges. As unemployment rose, fewer people had extra money for food. Even those whose jobs appeared stable and lives remained financially unaffected pulled back in spending, out of a natural cautiousness and uncertainty.

“These factors contributed to a slowing, and in most cases, a decrease in sales,” he added. “Retailers observed that even those who continued with organic and natural food purchases, their shopping patterns changed. Instead of asparagus twice a week it was broccoli and zucchini. Many shoppers had to make tough choices like continuing to purchase organic food when it came to the staple items like bananas, broccoli and lettuces, but buying conventional when it came to more luxury items such as exotic fruit or asparagus. These small changes had an impact on the market. Even as the economy shows a slow gradual incline, it takes longer for individual markets to respond. Retailers who keenly observed that this was far more than just a temporary phase began to see it more as a long-term adjustment. Those companies are faring best.”

Mr. Weinstein said that the locally grown movement is strong, and will most likely continue to be so moving forward. Shoppers of organic foods in general prefer their products to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible, and local foods adhere to that principle.

“In the larger discussion, it is not uncommon for local to get pitted against organic, as if they are somehow rivals and shoppers must choose between one or the other,” he added. “This is a false battle, and there is no reason that both cannot be supported. In fact, local, organic produce is ideally the best.”