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Florida’s culinary evolution fertile ground for produce

Nick Politis, sales manager for Mr. Greens Produce, a Miami-based produce distributor that specializes in servicing restaurants, hotels, country clubs and other foodservice establishments, noted 2017 was another year of growth for the company.MRGREENS 081915-1057

In 2017, the company upped its staff to 280 employees, and now operates 70 trucks, 15 vans and a 53-foot rig to transport its 1,250 different products. Transfers are also now being done out of a central Florida facility in Lakeland, covering the Orlando, Winter Park and the West Side of Tampa areas. In 2018, it will hire another salesperson to cover Sarasota and help growth efforts in the region.

“The growth has been pretty dramatic and it really comes from just servicing the accounts and focusing on the service aspect,” Politis said. “If clients don’t understand our value proposition and want to compare us with someone where they are picking up the stuff themselves, that’s not the customer for us.”

Success, he added, comes from the customer relationship and knowing what customers make most sense.

“It has to make sense for both parties,” he said. “We’ve always focused on the food service aspect of it, and don’t do the institutional business that others do. We’re not interested in the cruise line business. Our business model revolves on the service aspect that we found down here, and over the last five years, have really seen the restaurant scene in Miami and the surrounding area be on a different level — closer to a high-end restaurant town.”

Not that everything has been rosy. The recent storm damage from Hurricane Irma has played a somewhat devastating role in the upcoming season.

“Irma had some impact on the Florida growing season with tomatoes and some other items which were wiped out during the storm,” Politis said. “We deal with a lot of farms down in Homestead and the West Palm area, and for certain items, they will have issues for the next few months if not the entire season.”

One thing that Politis expects to trend well in 2018 is the micros, and Mr. Greens is doing a ton of business in this segment.

“We’re doing a ton of business and get a lot from California, but we are moving more to local growers to grow some of these micro-greens because we want to support local farms and minimize the travel,” he said. “The more we can get some of this grown here, the better it will be. You’re starting to see more of these items on the menu here, especially in concept restaurants.”

In 2018, Mr. Greens will continue looking to increase its reach in central Florida, and Politis said the restaurants there are not as familiar with the company as those in south Florida.

“We’re starting to see that change, and Mr. Greens is getting more known,” he said. “There is a lot of potential and a lot of tourism up there. We cover the West Coast of Florida as well, but that’s more seasonal. The growth potential in central Florida we see as much stronger.”

Outside of geographical growth, the company is growing vertically in what it is looking to sell to its existing clientele.

“Right now our main focus has always been fresh produce, but we do a full line of dairy, cheeses, milk, juices, etc., but now we’re getting into dry items,” Politis said. “That means oils, vinegars, flowers, spices.”

To help with this latest endeavor, the company brought in 20-year-indudtry vet Tony Ferrante, who was hired earlier this year.

“Tony has opened this up for us and told us the items we needed to carry. We’ve already seen the positive feedback from our clientele,” Politis said. “That’s where the growth will come in the next year or so. Our very high-end clients love the way we service them and they are the ones who came to us about this. It was the same five years ago when we started in dairy.”

Overall, the folks at Mr. Greens Produce are very optimistic about what’s happening in south Florida in the restaurant scene and are pleased to see the culinary credibility rising to rival those of New York and San Francisco.

“A lot of chefs and these concepts are clients of ours and the level and sophistication of the clientele has gotten a lot higher down here,” Politis said. “The clientele has gotten more sophisticated — both tourists and the locals — and the bar has been raised and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”