The Extra Mile

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They may not admit to being Packer fans, but a growing group of Minnesota chefs are becoming Wisconsin cheese heads. That’s thanks to a cheese-focused chef-to-chef educational tour program launched last March by the Minnesota division of U.S. Foodservice (USF). Partnering with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, the distributor hosted a “Cheese Crafters Dairy Tour” for some 25 to 30 chefs.
Founded 25 years ago, Markon Cooperative set out to bring the voice of foodservice to the produce community. As the industry's first produce buying group, that voice has been loud and clear about what operators and distributors need from grower-shippers in the way of products, quality, packaging and safety.
Your menu is the only piece of printed advertising that you can be almost 100 percent sure will be read by your guests. That’s a reminder from Kristen Ritchie, who joined Ben E. Keith Foods-Oklahoma to develop and implement a service called Menu Medic. With a sharp focus on the menu as every restaurant’s most powerful merchandising tool, the program offers everything from simple consultation to full-blown menu analysis, engineering and graphic design—all at no charge to Ben E. Keith (BEK) customers.
When Food Services of America (FSA) fights for its customers, it’s not just about beating back competitors. It’s also about fighting for customers’ survival by helping to put more “butts in seats.” The company’s Portland branch has led the way in this regard with an initiative called Dining Out in the Northwest, or DO IT NW.
Pate Dawson Company (PDC) has redefined its go-to-market strategy from being a distributor that sells to customers to one that buys for them. The distinction is significant, says John Paré, business solutions consultant for PDC. “We’re making a concerted effort to change the paradigm in the industry and also on a smaller scale within the community of DSRs, our sales reps.”
Independent broadliner Shamrock Foods is on a mission to help fill restaurant seats in its home state of Arizona. In mid-September, the company launched the Dine4AZ campaign to encourage the public to help stimulate the economy by dining out.
Foodservice distributors are in business to sell food, but they also give a lot away. U.S. Foodservice (USF) is a case in point. The nation’s No. 2 distributor has made supporting food- and hunger-related charities a key corporate mission. 
Training’s tough, and while larger chains have the luxury of programs developed in-house, independents and small multi-unit companies often don’t. Gordon Food Service (GFS), the country’s largest family-owned broadliner, fills that gap with a computer-based training program it began offering two years ago under its “Catalyst” brand of value-added programs.
Seafood specialist ProFish launched a sustainable seafood program three years ago, but in June took its eco-friendliness a step further. A new program, dubbed Carbon Fishprint, gives operators guidance on the environmental impact of the production, harvesting and/or transportation of the species they serve.
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.
A group of regional independent broadliners, Distribution Market Advantage (DMA), was formed to enable its shareholders to court chains. It has inked distribution deals with companies like P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Potbelly Sandwich Works, The Melting Pot and Moe’s Southwest Grill, among others. Part of its appeal is a technology platform called e-Advantage, which gives chains near-real-time visibility into virtually every aspect of their purchasing and distributor performance.
Performance Food Group’s Springfield, Massachusetts, operating company has hit on a value-added service that’s picking up steam. Called Performance for Profit, it’s a customized training program offered free of charge to customers and prospects.