There has been significant media coverage about the negative impacts of COVID-19 on businesses in the agri-food sector – many of whom felt these impacts overnight. The closures seen in our foodservice sector, including restaurants, cafeterias and some broader public sector institutions, created a domino effect of disruptions throughout the supply chain.
Foodservice distributors are one sector that has seen steep decline in business from their existing customers but have shown tremendous resiliency over the last two months. Bondi Produce, Flanagan’s Foodservice and 100 KM Foods are just some examples of Greenbelt Fund’s previous grantees that found ways to shift their business operations, by setting up online open-to-the-public retail shops and delivery food boxes in a matter of weeks.
Gordon Foodservice, another well-established foodservice distributor with divisions across Canada, has taken a unique approach to addressing these difficulties. In Ontario, they launched the Feeding Farm Workers Initiative – a program that allows farms to place food and supply orders for farm workers living onsite.
Blake Strano, District Sales Manager and lead of the program was gearing up for their busy summer season, when COVID-19 hit. “This left us in a jam as far as inventory is concerned. We were ordering product six months out that’s paid for, anticipating that business is going on as usual”. Like many working in local food, it was important to respond quickly.
Gordon Foodservice identified two main concerns early on: inventory overhead and the importance of bridging cashflow, while also paying attention to changes in the grocery retail experience. “Going to the grocery store and trying to pick up groceries, seeing how impacted they were . . . people eating from home more often, and seeing customers standing in long lineups”.
The problems were clear, but it took conversing with farms directly to see what their needs were. A Gordon Foodservice employee had a good relationship with a previous grantee of the Greenbelt Fund, EZ Grow Farm. They explained the importance of migrant workers staying healthy. “We didn’t know anything about the migrant workforce and so it started out with that conversation” explains Blake Strano. “What the farms have told us, is they’re out of business if their migrant workers get sick and going to the grocery store or having them do what they were doing before would leave them exposed [to the virus]”.
Gordon Foodservice’s diverse product line, including offerings of culturally-appropriate foods that may be hard for a migrant worker to find in a rural grocery store, and strong distribution know-how provided an opportunity to support farmers and the farming sector.
EZ Grow Farms, along with two dozen others have signed up for the Feeding Farm Workers Initiative, and GFS is in discussion with several more. “Like every business, we’re going to be forced to make some changes … explore some non-traditional business and a lot of that is going to come down to us being nimble and working together with people we haven’t worked with before.
For more information or to set up an account, please contact Blake Strano (District Sales Manager Golden Horseshoe) at firstname.lastname@example.org