By: Greg Thomas, Senior Director of Sales – Foodservice
and Jason Springer, Business Development Manager – Central Region
In this article, you will find:
We are back. We understand that this statement could sound too hopeful based on the last two years everyone experienced and we do not say it without deep thought and sincere belief. For the foodservice industry, some aspects of our COVID odyssey have been incredibly dire and we all know some version of this same story. With COVID-19 infections spreading throughout the world uncontrollably, many of our operator customers closed themselves off from their customer base, all forced to do so by some circumstance such as lack of labor, lack of product or customers isolating at home. Some simply closed due to ever-shifting health protocols and we mourn the loss of those businesses. Foodservice distributors and operators that were good at adapting survived but were almost solely dedicating their efforts and resources to keeping the lights on. They staffed their operations, procured products and maintained their customer base as best they could. Most trade events were cancelled or moved to a virtual format – all with mixed results. These online platforms became tiresome, unpredictable and always underperforming. Almost surprisingly, a dull roar became a huge cry for in-person events again – these same trade events previously taken for granted or looked upon as merely a necessity in some cases. Then came a light at the end of the tunnel – not quite a panacea, but more like work-around methods to deploy in order to continue living in the world.
As the world at large begins to reopen and people generally become more comfortable getting back into the swing of things, our foodservice world has responded in kind. Distributors and operators are beginning to accept in-person meetings again and are actively working with us (the vendors) to move forward. Additionally, distributors are requesting new discussions and assistance with sourcing “alternative products” from their normal purchases just to keep their doors open and support the Food-Away-From-Home (FAFH) rebound. Distributors are slowly reviewing new products, allowing operator work to occur, and returning to trade shows and meetings, without a screen!
Leahy-IFP maintained several goals over the past two years – those being a commitment to and belief in our own brands, a pledge to our distributor partners and a responsibility to our operator partners – all of these goals achieved through our focused sales team. More communication (honest conversations about our mutual business together), transparency (we both recognize our mutual “skin in the game”) and collaboration (we are in this together – how can we assist each other to get to the other side?) with our customers has been a necessity as we traversed the COVID landscape. Working closer with our customers allowed us to forecast future needs and provide alternative items/substitutions when necessary. We were even able to work through the difficult process of SKU Rationalization of our product categories, which in turn helped our Supply Chain department handle their particular challenges for better overall efficiency and customer satisfaction. We have maximized our human resources internally by shifting some team members to positions they are more suited for (and frankly, roles they enjoy more) and we continue to add personnel in an effort to remain devoted and strong as we work to achieve our future company and personal objectives. We have sought out new opportunities and, most unexpectedly, we have managed to strengthen partnerships with our current customers.
Leahy-IFP has been able to keep a positive attitude based on smart, flexible decision-making and a fierce dedication to our staff. In fact, we have been able to take that same enthusiasm and confidence into launching a brand new product line, All FriendsTM. As recently as only six months ago, there was still great uncertainty surrounding the idea of introducing a new beverage concept. However, All FriendsTM is here now and we have hit the ground running – serving it at our first live food shows and in-person customer meetings in two years!
We feel strongly about this product line thanks to the significant commitment from the organization, and also from the willingness of our customers to consider new and innovative products to offer their returning customers. The data supports the need for All FriendsTM Beverage (functional beverage infusions) in the marketplace, and operators see that in their customer base as well.
We continue to remain optimistic and “bullish” on the Foodservice Industry turnaround and are extremely excited to be a part of that journey. The foodservice world is a diverse, demanding, resilient, strong, determined, hardworking and rewarding segment of our lives. Food is comfort and it will always continue to be! The world as we know it is steadily coming to a new “normal” – let us all support it, build it stronger and keep it growing for years to come.