When the pandemic swept across the U.S., the restaurant food supply chain was one area that was directly implicated. The weeks afterward —late March and then April— first saw a large drop in demand for produce, followed by a large increase as restaurants reopened.
One of the organizations that pivoted quickly was Produce Alliance, a national procurement, distribution, and produce management company that specializes in overseeing relationships between growers and operators. David Kraus, senior vice president of custom distribution: “The relationships we have with restaurant operators and growers is such a key part of our DNA as a company. Our strategy during that painful time was getting to work on health of our end-user operators, putting our head down, and honoring these relationships, many of which we’ve kept up for over 20 years. The fresh produce supply chain built for foodservice isn’t suited for 75 percent drops in volume overnight, let alone 120 percent increases several days later, but we got creative, as we always do.”
First and foremost was a box program Produce Alliance put together, making sure that restaurant employees, who suddenly had no paycheck, could at least put some food on the table. Produce Alliance had an eCommerce site up and running within days, and that was a win-win, considering the produce was earmarked for restaurants that were no longer operating.
Produce Alliance also quickly moved to helping operators acclimate to the “new normal,” offering guidance on new item specifications that catered to the consumer’s evolving needs, and expertise on food safety and quality assurance protocols that were ever-changing during the pandemic. And of course, they made sure operators had ample produce to be able to continue to service their guests.