Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

SIC 5148

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry is comprised of wholesale distributors of fresh fruits and vegetables. It also includes establishments involved in banana ripening for the trade.

In 2010, Dun & Bradstreet reported a total of 7,066 establishments engaged in the wholesale distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables. The industry generated approximately $28.0 billion in total sales and employed 96,140 people. California led the nation in both number of establishments and value of sales, with 1,416 and $6.1 billion, respectively, followed by Florida, with 761 establishments and $5.5 billion in sales; New York with 566 and $1.6 billion; and Texas with 473 and $1.2 billion. In addition, although Washington had only 251 establishments, it generated $1.5 billion in revenues. Most industry establishments were classified as merchant wholesalers, or those who take title to the goods they sell. The remaining businesses in the classification are agents, brokers, and commission merchants.

The fresh fruits segment had 984 establishments and employed 24,787 people. It accounted for more than 24 percent of the market, with total sales of $6.7 billion. Banana ripening numbered 50 establishments, and fresh vegetables had 372 establishments and generated $1.6 billion.

Sales of fresh vegetables and fruits in the United States increased significantly between 1987 and 2000, due in great part to nutritional awareness and promotions by national dietary-health programs such as "5 A Day--For Better Health." Increased interest in adopting a meatless lifestyle also propelled vegetable sales. By the end of the century, more than 12 million Americans considered themselves to be vegetarians.

The total fresh vegetable crop in the United States was worth $10.4 billion in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Tomatoes, head lettuce, and onions were the largest crops in terms of value, together accounting for 32 percent of the total value. California was responsible for almost 50 percent of production of the nation's fresh vegetable crop, with smaller contributions by Florida (9.3 percent), Arizona (7.1 percent), Georgia (5.1 percent), and Washington (3.6 percent). California was also the number-one state in terms of value of vegetable crop (52.1 percent of total value) and area harvested (43.9 percent of total area harvested). Tomato production alone totaled more than $1.3 billion in 2009. Production of fresh vegetables had grown in the late 2000s, rising from 1.1 million metric tons in 2007 to almost 1.3 million metric tons by 2009.

An ongoing concern for California and Florida tomato growers impacting wholesalers in the late 1990s and 2000s was the impact of free trade with Mexico. Tomato imports were up 22 percent in 1996. Contentions were that Mexico dumped tomatoes into the market at prices well below market value. The commerce department and the Mexican government reached an agreement in October 1996 in which Mexican tomatoes were to be sold at prices comparable to U.S. products. The United States International Trade Commission discontinued its investigation as a result.

Imports continued to present a challenge to the industry, as value of vegetable imports rose from $5.9 billion in 2005 to almost $7.5 billion in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Imports of fruits also increased, from $6.7 billion in 2005 to $9.5 billion in 2009.

Citrus was one of the largest product classifications in this industry. Four states accounted for all U.S. production of citrus fruits in 2010: Florida (65 percent), California (31 percent), and Texas and Arizona (4 percent combined). The value of the U.S. citrus crop totaled more than $2.8 billion in 2010, up 5 percent from the previous year. Tree-ripe fruit of all varieties, which required special handling, helped increase profits for those able to deliver quality produce.

The U.S. noncitrus fruit crop was valued at $11.7 billion in 2009, with grapes, apples, and strawberries holding the largest share of the value as well as the largest percentage of production. U.S. production included 7.2 million tons of grapes worth $3.6 billion, 4.8 million tons of apples worth $2.2 billion, and 1.4 million tons of strawberries worth $2.1 billion.

Consumer interest in ethnic foods in the 2000s encouraged diversity in crops and spurred wholesalers to add variety to the traditional fruits and vegetables they carry. Mediterranean, Southwestern, and Asian cuisine stimulated sales of vegetables such as eggplant, beets, Asian cabbages, jicama, beans, and peppers. Such new interests also helped increase sales.

Sunkist Growers, Inc. was the largest marketing cooperative in the fruit and vegetable industry and one of the largest marketing cooperatives of any kind in the United States. The organization's grower-owners governed the cooperative and provided direction to its subsidiaries and affiliates. Sunkist also had citrus processing facilities, fruit growers' supply warehouses, an asset management service, and a research center. The company was established in 1893 by 60 citrus growers who joined together to improve their ability to deliver products to the marketplace. Bypassing commissioned agents and brokers, they bolstered grower profitability by sharing packing and marketing expenses. More than 100 years later, Sunkist had more than 6,000 grower-owners in California and Arizona harvesting more than 300,000 acres of citrus trees. The cooperative generated about $993 million in annual sales in the early 2000s.

Bananas accounted for 60 percent of the $3.4 billion in 2009 sales for Chiquita Brands International, Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio, which also supplied whole citrus fruits, melons, grapes, apples, and tomatoes to retailers. With revenues of $6.7 billion in 2009, Dole Food Company Inc. of Westlake Village, California, was the world's largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the early 2010s. Another industry leader was Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., which was based in the Cayman Islands and had almost $3.5 billion in 2009 sales.

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