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Foodservice: Finding new channels

Many growers, wholesalers, and distributors brought on new customers, both inside and outside foodservice, during the pandemic.

Foodservice sales picked up dramatically in May for RPE, Inc., BB #:105471 a grower and marketer of potatoes and onions headquartered in Bancroft, WI.

“Our business is getting very close to normal,” said Mike Shamberg, an account manager. “We’re picking up extra business from the Syscos and U.S. Foods of the world.”

Working together
Meanwhile, some foodservice suppliers have added retail customers.

Baldor’s business is normally 80 percent foodservice, 10 percent hospitals, and 10 percent retail.

When the crisis hit, Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc. BB #:121770 in the Bronx, NY, saw foodservice sales dry up. “We lost 86 percent of our business when New York City shut down—10 of our 350 trucks went out that first day.” But at the same time, retail sales were exploding.

“I reached out to Acme, which is part of Albertson’s, that operates in New York City,” Muzyk recalls. “They were doing crazy business and the shelves were empty, so I said, ‘What can we do for you?’ We wanted to help solve a pain point, not compete on price.

“They had 300 spaces on a truck that were filled with onions, potatoes, celery—about 25 items. He said, ‘Can you bring me those 20 to 25 items, and then I can claim the 300 spaces for chicken or toilet paper?’ I said, yes, I could deliver to 100 stores the next day. It wasn’t a favor; we solved a need and were a bridge.”

According to Lauren Scott, chief marketing officer at the Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708 in Newark, DE, PMA connected several foodservice distributors with retail customers, though not all companies were equipped to quickly make the shift, as there can be “mismatches in format and product,” she says.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story had information on Sysco’s product offerings in the spring that the company disputes. That portion has been removed.

This is a multi-part feature adapted from the cover story of the July/August 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.