Successful sales: so many hurdles, so little time

, osheas pork sandwich
Just yesterday, I received a request from a wholesale distributor, who was working with a foodservice contractor on proposal for a new account. The distributer, I’ll call him Mike, sent me this list, and asked what I could do to secure these products.

Angus Ground Beef

Ground Beef

The company also asked Mike to find medium, large and extra large eggs, and also liquid eggs, including “scramble mix,” scramble mix “breakfast blend,” and scramble mix “BNB.”

Two days ago, most food service contractors had no interest in local. Now, in Kentucky, the pressure is on and the food service contractors feel it. The University of Louisville and Berea College both serve local beef and some produce. Others are following suit. Everyone is stepping up their game.

So in hot pursuit of some RFP, a large contractor wants quotes for 3.2 ounce angus patties seasoned, unseasoned, homestyle or whatever. They want them now.

It can’t happen. Food service contractors cannot buy local food right now exactly the way they have historically bought food. Changing the system means changing the system, it doesn’t mean substituting the exact product from a local farmer as you can find on the open, industrial market.

Boneless, skinless chicken breast, my favorite love-to-hate product, is a case in point. Foster Farms frozen chicken breast is available from Costco retail for $2.50 per pound. At Marksbury Farm, BSCB is $4.70 a pound, if you buy by the case. We’ve seen in another post here a few reasons for that.

Marksbury pays its meatcutters almost twice what Perdue pays, something referred to as a “living wage.” Marksbury doesn’t have the efficiencies of the chicken factories (it could be more efficient), its chickens have constant access to grass and are not fed grain with arsenic in it (controls parasites, increases growth).

In Kentucky, great strides are made elsewhere. Jefferson County Public Schools orders locally-raised drumsticks. The University of Louisville, after 2 years of trying to serve local meat, has finally determined that buying a whole animal is the way to go. They now buy a beef a week.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t seen a request for ground beef patties with a list with precise weights and seasoning differences. But it is typical for food service contractors to order what they’re accustomed to, right off the Tyson list. Fine so far. But be willing to listen to the questions that will come. This isn’t about turning the fork lift down a different aisle in the refrigerated warehouse. It’s about asking farmers to grow more cattle in a way that keeps cattle, people and farmland healthy.

If you’re hired to solve the problem of building a local food system, like I am, you’re charged with finding the Middle Path. Does it have to be angus? Does it have to be 3.2 ounces? How many do you need? When? With what guarantees to the processor who may invest $200K in new machinary, or to the farmer who has invested in raising 200 new head of cattle?

Large-volume buyers, now under pressure to buy local food, will learn that they can’t snap their fingers today and have someone step up to the plate tomorrow. Meanwhile, farmers must learn that “local” carries connotations that consumers assume are included: standards of quality and consistency and, yes, price.

Turning this aircraft carrier takes time, it takes finding partners willing to work on the changes, willing to serve brisket instead of ribeye, willing to post a sign that says this is our farmer and we’re proud of him, willing to make an extra delivery or buy a machine that makes a 3.2 ounce patty.

Establishing a local food system requires people with stamina who can sit around a table and hash out the differences and learn to compromise. Laundry lists without communication won’t work.

The good news? In Kentucky, the communication is happening.

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2 Responses to Successful sales: so many hurdles, so little time

  1. cvapchef says:

    Great post Sarah. This is exactly the type of information that we have to get to the industry. Keep it up. do you think that this would be a good agenda item for “IF Food”?

  2. kymeyer says:

    Great observations and a chance to dig into the workings of the supply chain. I think one of the core issues you point out Sarah is pricing. To grow the production of authentic local food, we need to start transparent negotiation between participants in the supply chain. How can we work to create added value and reduced costs? – that is how we can create “win/win”s.

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