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Wholesale Produce Is The Way To Go

Why does wholesale produce make sense?

If you're on a healthy raw food diet, you need lots of fruits and vegetables, and that can get expensive and hard to manage.

The supermarket system was meant to provide produce in minimal quantities for people on a unhealthy standard American diet. As a raw foodist you need your kitchen and pantry overflowing with at least a hundred pounds of fruits and vegetables, and the shelves of the produce isle just aren't going to cut it.

There are a number of cheaper and more efficient ways to go about stocking your larder, but whatever you do, the key is volume.

Wholesale Produce - Buying In Bulk

WatermelonsIt's the most overused joke in my life: Are you feeding a monkey at home?

I get this all the time as I'm walking down the isle of a store with a 40-pound box of bananas. People just can't bend their mind around what amounts to a normal and healthy volume of food consumption, but this works in my favor.

Farmers and produce managers put me in the category of food merchant and become willing to cut me deals. You do need to know where to look, however.

Wholesale Produce Stop One: The Farm

The best place to get wholesale produce is where it's grown, whether that's your own garden or the local farm.

Though I live in an area where food doesn't grow for much of the year, I certainly take advantage of local farms during the summer and fall.

Not only is the food cheaper, but the farmer can tell me exactly how it was grown in terms of pesticide and fungicide use.

Many farmers have roadside stands where they sell produce at supermarket prices, but if you're willing to buy from them in bulk they'll probably be glad to give you significant discount. This may require some negotiation, however.

I buy peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears by the bushel basket directly from farmers, and expect to get around 30 percent off. One of my favorite tactics is to ask for "seconds", which is farmer talk for the "flawed" produce that comes off trees. Farmer SupplyThese are not perfectly round, may have some discoloring or a slight bruise, but still taste fantastic in most cases. Many farmers consider these less valuable because the general public wants apollonian produce, but I'll take tasty ugly fruit at 50 percent off any day.

I also buy large amounts of locally-grown lettuce, spinach blueberries, tomatoes, blackberries and other produce, and have gotten anywhere from 15-25 percent off.

It's all about getting to know the farmers and letting them know that you'll be a good repeat customer. Many are happy to bypass the restrictive distributors they sell to, though this is not always the case.

Wholesale Produce Stop Two: The Supermarket

We know you're not going to find the quantities or prices you need in the the produce isle, so check in the stock room. If you're willing to buy by the box or case, 10 percent is the minimal discount that I accept. It also seems to be pretty standard, though I've negotiated up to 15 percent occasionally.At 15 percent the store is probably not making a profit.

Most small chain or privately-owned supermarkets are flexible about this, and may be able to order you produce they don't stock in the store. I find larger chains either won't give you a discount or won't sell by the case at all, though your experience may vary.

The key is making friends with the produce manager and, again, letting him know you'll be a good customer. If he orders you something, be there to pick it up when you say you'll be.

Wholesale Produce Stop Three: The Distributor

The Distributor

Supermarkets are supplied with produce by large distribution networks, which often have a central warehouse that feeds a geographic region or state.

In Hartford, Connecticut, for instance, I frequently stop at Fowler Produce, which was recently bought out by Fresh Point. Because of the companie's size they sometimes get a lot of exotics which I like to examine. I believe they must stock a lot of Asian markets at times as well as the normal grocery stores. They have a locally-grown list as well as a small organic selection.

There's a cash and carry dock open at specified times and all you have to do is show up and tell the guy behind the desk what you want. A wholesale produce warehouse worker speeds off on a forklift and comes back a few minutes later with your boxes.

In general, though the "rules" distributors sometimes set up can make things tricky -some refuse to sell to the public, for instance.

I get around this by telling them I'm buying wholesale produce for a catering company. My company caters to me only, of course, but they don't need to know that. I use this cover at one distributor to get some of the best watermelons I can find in my area during the summer.

Other distributors will require that you open an account with them, which usually isn't too much of a problem, but some only accept minimal orders over several hundred dollars.

You can get around the later issue by teaming up with others and buying together. If you have large enough orders, you can often have them delivered by truck to save you time.

Many distributors will send out an email weekly with what they plan to stock. You email them or call back with your order so they have it ready for you when you get there.

Finding produce distributors can be tricky because they don't exactly advertise themselves to the general public. I'd start off with google searches for "distributor" or "produce" and your state, city, or region. They tend to be located in big cities or near arterial highways. The yellow pages may list some, but that tends to be hit or miss. You can also ask your supermarket produce manager who supplies his produce.

Finally, if you keep your eye out, you can usually see the produce trucks driving on the highways or unloading at supermarkets, which can give you a name to investigate.

Wholesale Produce Stop Four: Farmers Markets and Asian Markets

Asian MarketFarmers markets tend to be a bit expensive, but I find that if I go just before they close up, the prices have been slashed considerably. Much of their produce would be overripe or rotten by the following week's market, so they want to unload it at any price.

I've gotten some amazing deals ranging from 50-90 percent off this way. Once in awhile they'll just give me stuff to prevent it from going to waste. Most states maintain a list of farmers markets somewhere online.

Asian food markets almost always have a produce section to supply the Asians who miss the exotic fruits and vegetables of their own countries. You can often find durian and others great food here. The best place to look for them is in the China towns of big cities or in other places asians have settled.

The prices here will vary from rips off to great deals, but I've found the guys who run them are incredibly amused by a westerner who stops in for durian and boxes of other fruit, and will sometimes cut me some deals.

I've never been able to figure out exactly who supplies much of their stock, but I'm still trying.

Wholesale Produce Stop Six: Costco and Other Retail Wholesalers

I'm not a huge fan of retail wholesalers, but sometimes the reduction in hassle makes them worth it.

I have periodically maintained a membership at Costco, which I find has relatively higher produce quality than many supermarkets. I've been inside BJs Wholesale, but was not impressed by the prices, quantities, or quality.

At Costco the produce tends to be sold in bulk to some degree. They're not going to be willing to work with you on prices, which I'd estimate to be 5 percent below supermarkets on most fruits and vegetables. Some things are more expensive than a supermarket, however.

Wholesale Produce - Following Up:

If you know how to go about it, you can shave considerable amounts of money off your food bill. Don't be daunted and just approach the produce manager next time you're in the store and see how things go. As you become more confident you can start trying distributors and other places that catch your eye.

Keep your eyes open and you'll find great deals.

Read about a healthy raw food diet here.

Learn how to store and ripen your wholesale produce here.

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