Buckeye State’s Freshness, Logistics Advantages

Originally printed in the July 2020 issue of Produce Business.

Market proximity, crop growth and business environments help produce movement.

From one part of the Buckeye State to another, grower-shippers and wholesalers are distributing produce to the state’s – and country’s – produce consumers. Situated in the eastern quadrant of the Midwest, produce providers and marketers possess logistical and geographic advantages to transport produce to a majority of North America’s consumers.

Ohio grower-shippers and distributors enjoy selling produce in a market that possesses a diverse portfolio of customers. Because of its geography, wholesalers can transport product to their customers early and quickly.

Ohio growers and wholesalers have learned to deal with the coronavirus, which has changed how everyone in the supply chain handles and ships produce. While retail supermarkets reported higher-than-normal business, restaurant closings forced a precipitous decline in foodservice movement. Many mass caterers, such as corporate campuses, colleges, school systems, professional sports venues and hotels, suffered massive losses. In mid-summer, some of them were not in operation.

DNO Produce, a Columbus, OH, fresh-cut processor, found little difficulty adjusting to and implementing new policies and procedures, says Alex DiNovo, president and chief operating officer. The company instituted temperature checks, something it didn’t do in the past, completed questionnaires and commenced other safety processes.

“Everyone has their own story with how it [COVID] affected them,” says DiNovo. “We put in place all the recommended CDC, county and state guidelines. First it was meat plants… now it’s produce processing plants. We hope we don’t face some sort of outbreak here, but it’s happening in spite of cautions. When people gather together in an enclosed environment such as a produce processing plant, it spreads. We have been busy. We don’t want any of our associates to get sick.”


For Sirna & Sons Produce, in Ravenna, OH, 2020 got off to a strong start until March, when COVID hit and forced restaurants to shut down. “Retail and foodservice had a tremendous year of growth up until then,” says Tom Sirna, president. “While retail has not been affected as much, all aspects in this industry have drastically changed.”

The coronavirus has brought new opportunities to market fresh produce. “We see the interest of consumers in produce continuing to grow, with people looking for healthier food options at restaurants, grab-and-go stands, and other outlets,” says Sirna. “We can only hope that this interest continues to increase in the midst of the COVID crisis.”

Foodservice movement remains stalled. “So far, our foodservice has been slower than last year, but things are now picking up,” says Loren Buurma, chief financial officer and treasurer of Willard, OH’s Buurma Farms, Inc., which grows and ships a variety of leafy greens, herbs, cabbage, green beans, sweet corn and other vegetables May through October.

COVID sparked consumer interest in food in general, says Cathy Pullins, co-owner of Champaign Berry Farm, Urbana, OH, and president of the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketing Association, in Frazeysburg, OH. “My personal belief that the pandemic woke people up to wanting to know where their food is grown, and they also want to experience picking their own,” she says. “The demand for buying fresh and buying local is huge for fruits and vegetables. This appears to be the case across the state. We love seeing families picking their own in the fields. It helps children learn about their food sources and some of the labor that goes into picking.”


The Buckeye State offers many advantages for anyone buying, trading and consuming fresh produce. “Ohio’s overall market is unique in that it has the complete food value chain represented,” says Ashley McDonald, Ohio Proud program manager for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “From growers and processors, to packagers and distributors, retailers and ultimately consumers, the entire value chain is located here, which means quality and freshness are guaranteed from Ohio’s farms to the consumers’ table.

Situated within 600 miles of 60 percent of U.S. and Canadian populations, distributing from Ohio gives growers close access to their customers and ensures fresh produce is delivered to market is as fresh as possible.

“Ohio is a great market,” says DiNovo. “It is a great place for us to distribute from. We are within a day’s drive to many places. We can distribute all the way to the East Coast, to Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Atlanta. Ohio is a good hub from a distribution standpoint.”

Situated within 600 miles of 60 percent of U.S. and Canadian populations, distributing from Ohio gives growers close access to their customers and ensures fresh produce is delivered to market is as fresh as possible.

Such easy access to a majority of North America’s population provides growers, shippers and distributors logistical advantages. “We’re in a perfect location for overnight delivery to supply you with the freshest produce,” says Buurma.

The state’s infrastructure promotes movement. “We have road systems in Ohio that allow us access to many regions within the state quickly and easily,” says Sirna, whose Northeast Ohio operation distributes throughout the state and into parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “Since the population is spread out, this gives us an advantage to extend our service radius.”


Coupled with a versatile infrastructure, abundant natural resources, such as fresh water, low-cost natural gas and a competitive business climate, Ohio provides companies the ability to obtain raw materials, produce goods and deliver products to market with greater efficiency, says McDonald.

Additionally, the wealth of Ohio’s research and development partners help ensure the best products keep improving. “In terms of geographic advantages, our state has an abundance of resources, including fresh water, fertile soils and a varied growing climate,” says McDonald. “However, one of the greatest benefits of growing produce in Ohio is our location.”

The state’s soil is an asset. “Farming in Ohio is special because we have excellent soil and excellent sources of water,” says Pullins. “We also have good sources of local labor to help produce and harvest crops. We have urban areas relatively close to many farms. Many families are able to take day trips to pick their own fruits and vegetables.”

Weather is a big factor. “One of the many special qualities of living and distributing in Ohio is our weather, and truly having access to four seasons,” says Sirna. “Our area has provided us with access to many growers who can supply us with local product during that season. We are very fortunate to be able to extend our product lines with these options during the summer months.”

Considered a test city for marketing new products across the country, Columbus, the state’s capitol and second-largest metropolitan region (behind Cincinnati), is called “Test City, USA.” “Freshness, quality, variety and safety all come to mind when talking about Ohio produce,” says Buurma.


Ohio’s food scene features a rich, diverse population filled with casual dining, mass feeding and independent chef-driven restaurant concepts throughout the state. In September 2019, Kroger opened its On the Rhine Eatery food hall grocery store in Cincinnati. The two-level store in the city’s central business district includes a variety of restaurants. The store offers grab-and-go and ready-to-eat meals.

Ohio boasts a highly competitive retail grocery scene. The major players in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland include Kroger, Walmart, Meijer’s, with a variety of other chains, such as Giant Eagle, Aldi and Whole Foods. In the fall of 2019, The Fresh Market announced it would exit the Columbus market.

Ohio’s retail segment has always been strong. It has become even stronger since the outbreak of COVID, says Sirna. “Retailers do a tremendous job of merchandising their products, as well as revenue spent on marketing their products to the public,” he says. “An advantage to wholesaling in this market is its diverse portfolio of customers and the ability to deliver early and quickly. A disadvantage would be the amount of competition in the market place, as well as having a customer base that can be spread out.”

Fligner’s Supermarket, in Lorain, OH, 20 minutes west of Cleveland, attracts a diverse clientele. “We are like the international city,” says Josh Buckey, produce manager. “There are so many ethnic groups, from Polish to Spanish, that shop here. There are so many different cultures. We get business from all over.”

Produce is the second biggest part of sales for the store, which is known for having one of the largest U.S. full-service custom-cut meat counters. “Some of our customers travel over 45 minutes to an hour away because our meat department is so unique, especially with the coronavirus and meat situation.” During the first month of COVID, business was the busiest the store had ever seen. Though business tapered a little, store patronage remains high, says Buckey.

Local remains a big factor. Ohio Proud produce is in high demand in grocery stores and has been a key item at eateries. “The local movement has been strong for a number of years,” observes Buurma. “Our chains have been very supportive buying and promoting local produce. We really appreciate all they do to help us move our product, especially the seasonal surpluses brought on by great weather.”