Michigan’s Diverse Produce Availability


At the beginning of the pandemic, a large amount of Mexican product was coming across the border, recalls Greg Bird, executive director of the Michigan Vegetable Council in Mason. But as the crisis has dragged on, the flow of produce from Mexico has slowed. “It seemed that asparagus saw a bump in price, since foreign product has slowed. We will see if this continues, as Michigan is currently beginning its asparagus harvest.”

Supermarkets experienced “a spike in needs when it first started with lockdowns in states,” which has since appeared to level off, according to Brian Coates, vice president of sales for Applewood Fresh Growers in Sparta, MI. “Many items on apples were taken out of distribution; retailers wanted to concentrate on base items in categories.” He points out that “it has been hard to get new items in stores,” and that foodservice business “dried up almost completely.”

Todd Miedema, sales manager for Miedema Produce, Inc., in Hudsonville, MI, confides that the pandemic has increased his firm’s sales because it markets most of its fresh produce to retailers, “and people are buying from grocers and eating at home lately.” There is “nothing really different” in his team’s approach “because fresh produce marketers are totally accustomed to quick changes in the market, from supply to consumption.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the strong demand for all Michigan-grown products remained. Impact, according to Heather Throne, grant and commodity program anager for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD), in Lansing, was predicated by market channels. “Those selling to grocers and retailers are in a much better position than those who sell to restaurants, hospitals, and schools.”

The pandemic “got the remaining potatoes and onions out of winter storage pretty quickly with a slight bump in price,” Bird reveals. “Most Michigan products are now not available; it is just going in the ground. It seems like fresh produce is not moving the quickest off shelves, but we will see if that continues.”

If there has been a positive side, it has been the underscoring of the need for healthy eating, bringing nutrition front-and-center in the public’s attention. “Consumers are looking for healthy foods,” notes Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee (MAC) in Lansing, MI. “Consumers know produce is a healthy option for their families. We have seen an increase in bagged apple sales, which has been good for us because many Michigan apples are sold in bags.”