Editor's note: The Business Journal will be running regular features on area businesses and how they are adjusting operations, innovating and coping in general with the economic impacts of the coronavirus. For story or subject suggestions, email [email protected].
The Market Street location of Port City Produce opened a bit early this year to fill demands for fresh fruits and vegetables at a time when people need it most, said Sven Wallin, a partner in the business.
What started as a small roadside stand in the summer of 2010, with mostly fruits and vegetables, has grown to two locations with an expanded product inventory to include local vendors and other items like baked goods, dressings and meats, he said.
Wallin and his partners, Andrew Cameron and Wells Struble, opened Port City Produce's location at 5740 Market St. on March 19, due to the growing demand.
The location is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Its midtown location at 6458 Carolina Beach Road, next to Seaview Crab Company, is scheduled to open in April.
The Market Street location currently has nine employees working the stand, which has set up a curbside service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The company typically grows to around 30 employees during the busy summer months.
Also later this summer, that location is slated to move to a larger site at 6250 Market St., Wallin said.
The business has posted signs to remind customers to keep a safe distance from others, he said. Employees are also using sanitizing wipes for baskets and wearing gloves for safety. They also recommend that everyone wash their produce once home to mitigate risks, he said.
Port City Produce is keeping customers posted on what items are going through its market on its social media pages. It has also started a Facebook live video two times a week to do a walkthrough of the market so customers can see the produce, Wallin said.
Wallin answered questions about Port City Produce's operations amid the virus restrictions:
Why open early and switch gears a little in your business model?
“We decided to open early because we knew people were looking for fresh food with the supermarkets being emptied out. This is usually the case after winter anyways because people are excited for our great tasting produce but we really thought we could help supply more food by being available. We have all seen the lines in the stores and everyone standing so close together in a confined space. With us being an open-air market, we are able to operate outside in a less restricted area and people can have their personal space.
"We are just now unrolling our curbside service where you will pull up and stay in the car. An employee will come with a menu and you will fill it out. This employee will then do your shopping and accept payment from you all while you are in the car. We have instructions painted on a sign to be seen from the parking area.
"We currently do not have a preorder option on this service but we aim to come out with that as well to minimize your wait time. The next aspect will be a little further down the pipeline but hoping to get it out in a couple of weeks and that is going to be an online box order service. We will make a fruit box, veggie box or mix box of seasonal goods and we will deliver. Have not got all the details squared away on that one yet though."
: Do you feel this is another good way to sustain business and keep people employed?
Being one of the only types of food businesses allowed to be open, we hope to provide some jobs to people that are in the job market. Since we are expanding our ordering operations, we will be hiring more people to help keep up with demand and develop those sides of the business. Curbside ordering, preordering and online ordering are all services we have wanted to add in the past but with the current situation, we are developing the services faster to adapt to market conditions and provide to our customers.”
Do you feel customer demand is steady?
“So far customer demand has been steady. We are seeing a slight uptick in demand due to the current situation. Hopefully, people will see this as an opportunity to help support local farmers by shopping through businesses such as ours. We can say that our prices on fruits and veggies are just as competitive as most supermarkets if not a little more customer friendly.”
How are you getting your supply?
"We have our normal supply channels that we have always had. Local farmers provide us with anything that's in season, and local vendors make up all of our dry products such as jams, jellies, breads, meats, dairy, dressings and more. We do gather produce that is not in season in North Carolina from all over the Southeast such as Florida.
"This allows us to carry products that are in season in that area. The taste and freshness is great because it was still picked at a smaller farm at the appropriate time in the life cycle of that piece of fruit or vegetable. Demand is very high for food products right now which is leaving some suppliers short but they are working their hardest to provide more. With the shift in people staying at home and cooking, more grocers and markets like ourselves are finding increased demand."