LOS ANGELES PIONEERS GO NATIONAL
“The diversity of the market has expanded greatly and continues to do so,” says Bill Vogel, president and chief executive of Vision Produce, Los Angeles. “An example of the diversification may be the product-specific growing of typical low-volume items, like Chinese long bean or an Indian vegetable line.”
The diversity of people and produce in Los Angeles has made it home to pioneer wholesalers who introduced fruits and vegetables from both Latin America and Asia to consumers around the country.
“We are known for retail nationally, with limited sales to white tablecloth restaurants in Southern California and Las Vegas markets,” says Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Produce, Vernon, CA.
“The market is more diverse now; we probably have included more than 150 to 200 new items in a decade. We are a full provider of everything ethnic,” adds Schueller.
Joe and Sharon Hernandez started this business in a rented warehouse lunchroom, named it after their daughter, Melissa, and grew it to occupy 280,000 feet of office, cooler and warehouse space.
“The LA Market is a wonderful opportunity to find surplus opportunities especially from the Central Valley of California and from Mexico in particular. It is one of the biggest and most diverse,” says Schueller. “With the ports, we have both air and water for receiving imports from around the world.
Frieda Kaplan introduced Chinese gooseberries, since renamed kiwifruit, to U.S. consumers in 1962, and her Southern California produce wholesale operation has been blazing trails with new and interesting produce ever since.
“We still see ethnic markets separated from each other,” says Alex Berkley, director of sales with Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Los Alamitos, CA. ‘That said, we think that with the Millennial and Gen Z generations being so interested in diverse cuisine, we will begin to see these ethnic markets overlap. Shoppers want convenience and a one-stop shop when grocery shopping, so it is up to the retailers to see who can do it best.”
Frieda’s sees itself as the source for supermarkets eager to offer curious and adventurous consumers new and exciting fruits and vegetables from the far corners of the world.
“We are lucky to live in a world where we can access seasonal fruit year-round,” says Berkley. “The LA market is a melting pot, so items that were once unique and hard to find, like jackfruit, dragon fruit and tamarind, are available with many options.
“Now it’s about finding the safest product with the best quality year-round at a great price. That is what Frieda’s is focused on.”