TORONTO — With online purchasing continuing to growth, the distribution business in Canada is being forced to evolve and reinvent itself on a regular basis. That was the message delivered by a panel of distributors at last week’s Restaurants Canada “Future of Distribution in Canada” panel held in Toronto on the show’s opening day, February 25.
“Today, you can buy anything anywhere, anytime,” said Steve Kampstra, vice-president, Canada, Broadline distribution, Gordon Food Service “This [mindset] is now tipping into foodservice,” noted Kampstra adding the trend was fuelled by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. For distributors the question is “how do you emulate that Amazon experience, and can we source a product we don’t have?”
Tim Cameron, president of Sysco Canada, pointed out that while price transparency continues to be a hot button for operators, as they want to know where their products are being sourced, more than ever “we need to provide solutions and efficiency in order to be that partner,” operators need.
The panelists agreed that though technology provides convenience, relationships are just as important, if not more so. “We have to do our part to ensure guests have a great experience,” said Dan Flanagan, president of Flanagan Foodservice. “We have to understand everyone’s different needs.” And though Flanagan quipped that the distributor sales rep may be viewed as a dinosaur from another era, he pointed to a recent Technomic survey that showed face-to-face interaction is still an important factor, one that has grown significantly from the previous survey. “Relationships are important,” agreed Darrell Moss, VP & general manager, Colabor Group, (Summit Food Distribution). “We train our reps to ask the right questions.”
Like operators, today’s distributors are also being challenged by increases to minimum wage. “It’s the biggest topic in years” stated Sysco’s Cameron, who highlighted that the giant recently offered seminars to help operators better understand how certain products can help them save costs.
According to Kampstra, the question is “relative to escalating costs, how do we get better value. We’ve got to figure out a way to get menu prices up and determine which items are price sensitive. We have to increase the value perception.”
With technology continuing to grow, Trevor Liu, moderator, asked the panel whether we are in an era where you order everything on your phone?” Sysco’s Cameron answered affirmatively. “Yes, we are there. We’re on the cusp of that now. It used to be pencil and paper and now it’s electronic all the way.” But, warned Moss, ”It’s not about converting people to technology, it’s about offering a different way to customize our approach to what the customer needs.”
As for the future, when asked which food trends we can look forward to, Kampstra was emphatic. “If you don’t have food for delivery, you’re missing out.” He also added veg-centric dishes continue to grow in popularity, while Flanagan stressed that “truly authentic ethnic” is growing and that local continues to be a game changer, adding that he originally thought local would not be a lasting trend, but now his company’s product portfolio is skewed to hundreds of local products.
Kampstra also predicted that the “Amazon model will play big in the model of distribution in the future.” And no discussion of the future could end without the topic of robotics. Said Kampstra, “We’re piloting a whole robotics program,” a trend he believes will help companies become “great service providers.”