You’ve probably seen Produce Express trucks idling outside Sacramento restaurants, their sides emblazoned with a cartoon roadrunner pushing a handcart loaded with boxes of lettuce. The company supplies many of the region’s top restaurants with organic fruits and vegetables and artisanal food products such as cheese and pasta. With its business upended by COVID-19, the wholesaler is now selling directly to consumers—and in the process has discovered a whole new market.
When the shutdown went into effect last month, Produce Express started selling “consumer boxes” filled with products that would normally go to restaurants such as Mulvaney’s B&L, Paragary’s and Ella. It was designed to keep employees working and put money in the pockets of local growers such as Del Rio Botanical and Frog Hollow Farm.
Produce Express offers 11 themed consumer boxes at wholesale prices, including all-fruit, all-veggies, healthy snacks, root vegetables, a salad kit and a dairy box. There’s a Mexican-themed box with rice, dried beans, tortillas, cilantro and chilies, and an Italian box with pasta, Arborio rice, polenta, mozzarella, garlic and Italian herbs. Prices range from $20 for a vegetable box to $50 for an all-organics box.
It’s a new twist on the old concept of consumer supported agriculture, or CSA. Instead of paying a monthly or quarterly fee and getting a CSA box filled with whatever the farm has on hand (the old “you get what you get and don’t throw a fit” model), you choose what kind of box you want and when you want it. Order by 2 a.m. and pick up your box later that day from a local drop zone or the company’s warehouse near Power Inn. Boxes are available six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
The program has been remarkably successful, according to general manager and part owner Jim Boyce. The first week, they sold about 200 boxes a day. Now, the company is selling close to 400 boxes daily. They haven’t had to lay off any of their 108 employees. Local farms and producers who saw their restaurant market dry up also benefit.
Produce Express plans to sell direct to consumers even after the shutdown ends and their wholesale restaurant business returns. “The community is helping us out right now,” Boyce says. “I have vowed to continue when this is all over.”
For more information, call (916) 446-8918 or go to https://www.produceexpress.net/products/consumer-boxes.html.