Life after US Foods, Quandt’s

A metaphor for my relationship with the largest foodservice company in the country.

A metaphor for my relationship with the largest foodservice company in the country.

In the last six months, the entire network for how we acquire most of the food, drinks and supplies at camp crashed and burned. Then, it crashed and burned again.

If I’m doing my job right, you’ll notice only improvements. This is a story about opportunity.

But if you’ve read this far, you’ll see the ugliness behind the scenes.

Our problems started in the middle of our busiest summer camp weeks. Sysco, the largest foodservice company in the country, which had about 65 percent of my wholesale food business, became twitty.

Incorrect items were being shipped and not being replaced. Beverages became special orders with month-long lead times. Delivery days were being cut. My salesman refused to come out and once, even ducked calls and text messages until it was too late to place an order, throwing off an entire week’s menu.

The unreliable nature of our relationship was costing my staff time, and it was costing camp money.

We were done with Sysco.

Enter US Foods, the second largest company in the country and, for us, the company that was getting the second-largest amount of money from me.

Led by a new salesman, Dan, who took over the account in July, the company aggressively struck where Sysco was delinquent. By the start of our fall retreat season, we’d converted the kitchen to and began seeking out a new secondary company.

That one was easy. We chose Quandt’s, a family-owned company in nearby Amsterdam that had proximity (easy to pick up items if I screw up an order) and knowledge of our business (the salesman had Sac’s account on and off for 25 years). We sent in the paperwork and prepared for our first order.

You may know what happened next.

In November, US Foods officially took over Quandt’s. In December, Sysco announced it had bought US Foods.

And we’re back to the beginning.

But this is a story that will have a happy ending, because it has to. There are picky kids, demanding adults and a workable budget that need my attention.

I grumbled through a week of evaluating our supplier options before accepting the fact that we had only one. The mergers and acquisitions had left the region with two large distributors — Sysco and a smaller, family-owned one in Columbia County whose recent history with me is punctuated by unreturned phone messages and missed appointments.

And then I really got to work.

I spent the first two weeks of December talking to my peers, hitting up brokers for information and studying foodservice publications. I identified five other large distributors in our periphery, and went to work, talking to company presidents, sales directors and in one case, even an executive from another part of the country who did some lobbying on my behalf.

It mostly went nowhere.

And then the call came from Bob Crory, the president of Performance Foodservice in Springfield, Mass., the closest warehouse for the nation’s soon-to-be second-largest foodservice company, which has a small footprint in Albany and Saratoga counties and had slowly been inching this way.

“Broadalbin?” he asked. “We can come out there.”

Today, I met with the sales director for this region. Next week, I’ll meet with the salesman.

If things go well, we would be their first customer in Fulton County.

Sysco may still get my US Foods business, particularly if I’m allowed to keep my US Foods salesman. But now we have options.

All it took was some phone calls and emails.

Problem solved?

I’ll let you know in a year.

Photo credit.

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