A fruitful year: Sales up 800 percent for food distributor

TRAVERSE CITY – Providing the freshest local food products from the farm to the kitchen within 24 hours is the goal of one Traverse City business. A goal that appears to be working.

Eric Hahn of Charlevoix opened Cherry Capital Foods in May 2007. The local food distributor on U.S. 31 South works directly with farmers and other food producers by selling their goods to area businesses throughout northern Michigan. Just 15 months since starting up, Hahn says sales are up 800 percent.

"When I first started the business I had 60 customers," says Hahn. "Just two months later I had double the amount of customers. Today I have 250 and business is growing every day."

That trend continued this summer. From June 2008 to July 2008, sales jumped 94 percent. Hahn expects similar growth next year, as his business continues to expand. Besides local customers, he also sells to high-end grocery stores in Detroit, Chicago, and Grand Rapids

While Cherry Capital Foods may be a relatively new business, Hahn has a strong background in food distribution. Prior to opening the company, he was a "fresh product representative" out of Detroit. There he handled accounts in northern Michigan and got to know many of the local farmers.

"I kept hearing the same story," says Hahn. "'We've got this great product – fresh fruits and vegetables; we just don't know how to market them.'"

When the Detroit company that Hahn was working for stopped distributing fresh local fruit, Hahn said he knew it was time to move on and decided to open his own business up North.

"Cherry Capital Foods is a win-win for everyone involved," says Hahn. "It's not only a win for my business, but it's also a win for farmers because they never had an active market like this before to sell their products."

Since opening less than one and a half years ago, more than 150 area farmers are selling their produce directly to Cherry Capital Foods. Hahn says there is a consumer demand for local, fresh food.

"With the recent food recalls and salmonella tomato scare, people want to know where their food is coming from. When we package food, we make sure to include the farm it came from and the community."

Freshness is a big selling point. Hahn says the food doesn't sit around. Instead, it's often "grown to order." Customers tell Cherry Capital Foods what they want and when they want it. The farmers do the rest. When the order is harvested, it's often delivered to Cherry Capital Food's warehouse the very same day. Customers can pick it up there, or have it delivered.

Along with fresh food for consumers, Hahn says Cherry Capital Foods is also a huge economic boost for area farmers. He adds that since working with his company, five farmers have had to expand their growing operations.

One of those farmers is Walt Harris of Benzie County. He says since teaming up with Cherry Capital Foods, he has doubled his tomato production to keep up with demand.

Hahn says the customers also benefit from his business because they get the freshest food on the market. Some of those customers include area grocery stores and restaurants such as Freshwater Lodge and Bayside Market. Several school districts including TCAPS and Glen Lake also take advantage of Cherry Capital Foods in order to provide students with the freshest fruits and vegetables.

The biggest demand among customers is for local, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. Depending on the season, popular requests include apples, cherries, peaches, strawberries, and asparagus. But Cherry Capital Foods also buys and sells other products from local companies, like homemade sweets, meats, pasta, dried fruit and even dog treats.

For more information, go to cherrycapitalfoods.net.