While many distributors say they want to help independent operators survive, Favorite Foods goes beyond lip service. This small local broadliner has turned supporting indies into a mission that few, if any, larger competitors can match.
It’s done so largely through the Favorite Independent Restaurant Association (FIRA), which it founded in 2002. Today, the 40-plus FIRA member restaurants rely on the group for three key benefits, says Julie Cole, VP of marketing at Favorite Foods. “The big benefits are helping members leverage their buying power, advertise and market cooperatively and participate in the FIRA loyalty card program. On the buy side, we negotiate with manufacturers to get pricing relief. And we reach out to area businesses, such as insurance, media and credit card companies, to negotiate discounts.”
The biggest draw, however, is the FIRA card program. Introduced four years ago, it now boasts 17,000 “Local Rewards” cardholders, who can use it at any participating FIRA restaurant. Cardholders get a point for every dollar they spend. For every 100 points accrued, they receive an extra $10. A new element will soon enable cardholders to donate loyalty dollars to a charity of their choice, Cole says.
When enrolling in the card program, customers provide demographic information, including name, address, workplace, e-mail address and birth date. Every swipe of their card adds information on their dining frequency and spending habits. “The most successful FIRA restaurants are those who embrace the knowledge they gain from the loyalty program,” Cole says. “We can provide birthday lists for e-mail marketing. We can show them all their customers who haven’t been in within six months. We can promote double FIRA points on Tuesdays to combat a slow night for
a particular member. It’s completely customizable and has proven to be a great way to help our customers.”