Friday, December 04, 2020

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Growth Spurt of Local Produce at Roberts

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"Support of local produce is good – plain and simple," says Director of Customer Happiness & Satisfaction at Roberts Food Center, Bob Fusco Jr.

"No matter how you look at, the quality, the taste, the price and the freshness beats out-of-state sourced products so we try to carry as much local as possible," Fusco says and adds "Local jobs, local tax base, local town budget, local pride – the same pride we take in our store people take in their communities."

Roberts' main local grower for summer supplies is Cecarelli Farms in Northford, a relationship that has lasted for over a decade.  If Nelson Cecarelli, doesn't grow it, Roberts can get "CT Grown" from Bozzuto's in Cheshire.

The goal when it comes to local: picked, delivered and sold same day. Not only does this goal sound great, but it's also achieved 99 percent of the time!

"We can honestly say that we're waiting at 9am the next day for the next-day delivery. We're out of zucchini, we're out of corn. We're waiting for the next fresh picked, delivered, sold same day type of thing," he says. And, what's nice about the local farmer is that they deliver seven days a week.

The bulk of the season starts in July, although some items are available as early as the end of May. The season starts with native strawberries, which, depending on the weather, is a short season. The first week in June brings leaf lettuce, beans and peas. As you move into July, there's squash, peppers, kale, cabbage, eggplant, cucumbers and leafy greens. The largest and most popular local item, native corn, arrives the last week in July. The vegetable season ends in August or early September, depending on the weather. The finale means local tomatoes – grape tomatoes and beefsteak variety tomatoes.

Roberts also sources from Norton Brothers in Cheshire. This family-run farm specializes in apples, including apple cider, although they also supply Roberts with blueberries (in late July) as well as peaches and nectarines.

Cecarelli Farms and Norton Brothers are both on a growth spurt too. Fusco reports, "They're expanding their farms and their variety. They're experimenting a little more with some different items."

This spring and summer Roberts will be stocked not only with as many local fruits and veggies as possible, but also expanding offerings with organic varieties of Nutmeg State-grown produce.

While some organics sell better than others, organic is definitely a growth area in fresh produce as well as throughout the entire store. Customers, Fusco finds, are looking more closely at labels and want to know where what they are buying is coming from.

Customers are also looking for more prepared fruits and vegetables – "stuff that's going to make their time in the kitchen a little more enjoyable and quicker," he explains. This means fresh cut produce – "stuff that's all ready to throw into a sauté pan or onto the grill.  It's prepped and ready to be cooked."

For fresh cut fruits and vegetables, they use as much local product as possible. Customers are willing to try something that is semi-prepared. "There's a little less of 'what do I do with it' if it's ready to go and there's a recipe next to it," Fusco says.

Another new find for customers is "zoodles," which are made on a spiralizer machine. Fusco explains, "You can make slaw with it, you can shred it, you can make noodle shapes. Great for zucchini or yellow squash which we're selling a ton of. You just put it in the machine and it's great as a substitute for pasta if you're on a carb-free diet or just sautéed in a pan with a little olive oil and garlic."

Customers are demanding local, and Fusco maintains: "It's a good thing for the farmer, it's a good thing for me, and it's a good thing for the customers in that it's fresh, it's got a great taste when it's just picked, and it contributes to the local economy and local community."


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