Sysco Canada may have the lion’s share of the national supply-chain market for the foodservice industry, but throughout its growth this year’s Supplier of the Year has never lost sight of its commitment to local customers.
Over the last year, the company’s dedication to its clients and Canadian communities shone through at a time when the industry and the supply chain were challenged like never before. Its commitment has been captured in its newest purpose statement: connecting the world to share food and care for one another.
In 2001, the purchase of SERCA gave Sysco Canada a coast-to-coast presence that continues to grow. The company now has 7,000 employees and 17 locations across Canada, as well as FreshPoint locations that sell produce exclusively as well as specialty meat and seafood locations for independent restaurants.
Each business acquired by Sysco, whether a single unit or part of a larger group, originated as a family broadline distribution company, says Randy White, president, Sysco Canada in Toronto. “We have an underlying culture around local people living in the communities in which they work.”
This connection proved critical when COVID-19 struck, as team members worked tirelessly to pivot inventory and get millions of dollars of excess product into homeless shelters, food banks and other communities that had been cut off from their own supply sources.
Due to supply chain challenges fuelled by the pandemic, “grocery stores simply couldn’t keep up with demand,” says White. “Food banks were struggling to get inventory, so we joined others who came in to supplement those gaps in the supply chain.”
He notes that given the restaurant industry supplies 40 per cent of all food consumption in Canada, “We had to quickly do something about helping Canadians find food and supplement the grocery industry that didn’t have the capacity to meet a 40-per-cent increase in demand for groceries.”
Sysco Canada also worked through the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to advocate for the restaurant industry, says White. As the industry was struggling given the onset of restrictions, “we stepped up to get close to regional, federal and provincial governments so they understood the importance of the restaurant industry in feeding Canadians.”
A major initiative was the launch of Foodies Unite initiative, an all-encompassing effort focused on supporting industry partners and consumers through a number of community-focused programs.
For example, the Sysco North program was launched to support Indigenous communities that were cut off from supplies. “There were 1,100 communities that could not get products, so we sent hundreds of trailers of nutritious food into those communities,” says White, allowing them to get good quality food at fair prices.”
As part of its Foodies Unite initiative, in January 2021, Sysco Canada launched a program called “Keep Local Restaurants on the Menu,” and to help struggling operators throughout the pandemic, it also lifted delivery minimums and offered flexible payment terms. “We said ‘just order what you can and pay when you can, and we will get through this together’,” says White.
Early in the pandemic, the company launched [email protected], a solution allowing consumers to purchase restaurant-quality grocery items from home. “We realized early on we needed to help the grocery supply chain and find ways to help customers struggling to find food,” says White. “We opened [email protected] in seven days, offering a direct-to-home delivery and pick system.”
It also launched Sysco Virtual Kitchen, featuring podcasts providing how-to driven content to operators and chefs. “Early in the pandemic, we felt the need for a channel to reach our customer community,” explains White. “Through this channel, we present seminars to discuss ideas and opportunities, how to set up takeout operations, menu planning and other topics.”
Recognizing rural communities were especially hard pressed to get food, Sysco worked with local family restaurants to set up a Pop-Up-Shop program for selling groceries. “It was a great way for us to give back to the community,” says White, and enable customers to sell food through a mini grocery setup.
The ability to connect locally is one of many unique competitive advantages for Sysco Canada, he adds. “For one, we are a truly national company that sources a majority of our products from Canada. We have the ability to distribute to every city, town and hamlet in the country. No one else can do that.”
Sysco also prides itself on serving as a one-stop shop for operators, he adds. “We’re not just supplying food. We’re helping operators analyze back-of- house performance, menu design, costing, pricing…those are all part of our services. The big term we use in our industry is personalized service for our customers.”
Over the past year, the company has invested heavily in its e-commerce capabilities to offer multiple ways to work with operators and help solve their immediate challenges. Its new Synergy Tech Suite apps offer menu planning, nutrition and dietary-management tools.
Sysco Canada’s latest outreach is “The Great Give Campaign,” which is providing a minimum of 100,000 meals during the holiday season through Food Banks Canada.
A key internal initiative has been the introduction of Associate Resource Groups (ARGs). These were designed to create communities within Sysco dedicated to diversity, inclusion and mental health, among other social issues. “We’ve seen this soar to the moon in terms of dialogue witin Sysco and the broader community,” says White. ARGs run education sessions, open-discussion forums, celebrations, activities and events and regular internal communications.
“This goes beyond talent acquisition and employee development,” says Sarah Anseeuw, vice-president, Sales and Marketing, who also serves as the executive sponsor for the Impact ARG focused on diversity. “Together we’re creating a very grounded community where all people feel welcome and participating in conversations we didn’t [have] in the past.”
As global supply-chain issues continue to dominate the headlines, White believes Sysco Canada is well prepared to overcome those challenges in the months to come and says he’s looking forward to getting back to business as usual, whenever that may be.
“I see a great positive outcome for our industry. It will just take us a bit longer as we work through this stage of safe re-opening. I look forward to the day we can finally celebrate the recovery of our industry.”
By Denise Deveau