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Sysco Food


gfron1
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I've been known to take a jab or two at Sysco and other mass food distributors. And on an almost daily basis I've seen comments in the EGullet forums that attack these distributors.

Yet they are so widely used that there are clearly powerful perks to restaurants. And it would be easy to say this is only a chain restaurant phenonmenon, but the reality is that many independent restaurants use mass distributors. And I would suspec that a number of restaurants that many eGullet members would consider good use these companies.

It seems to me that these companies set atop a slippery slope for restaurant buyers. It is "easy" for a chef to use these distributors because of the convenience, and sometimes the price, but where do chefs draw their line. For example, a chef may start by buying frozen chicken breasts. Then the convenience of having them pre-cut in strips for the chicken salad creeps in. Then why not get the teriyaki merinated strips...saves another step doesn't it? And so the food is no longer the restaurant's, it seems to me, but the distributors - in essence private labelling.

So, I'm interested in hearing from restaurant folks what they think about distributors such as Sysco. What do you see as the pros and cons. There's no need for us to simply slam these companies since that's been done to death. But, here's a chance to discuss the topic in a respectful yet challenging way.

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Great Subject, especially with these guys.

I've seen it happen a few times, most recently during the last gig I was working.

It went from everything "fresh " to bag upon bag of precut/presliced/pre pre everything.

The powers above were endlessly screwing with pastry ( a much higher profit center and comparatively, higher selling profit center) but these guys with their pre cut radishes( I s^%t you not, bland of flavour, probably gmo-ed to hell & back) , they still needed 5 people + a chef, not including line guys.

They spend so much money on this stuff, no one they hire learns jack about knife skills and to be sure, kickbacks and vacas?

2317/5000

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That's an angle I hadn't thought about...what this does to the learning opportunities of food professionals. I know a restaurant in my town was just bought by a "big city" couple who was shocked that the kitchen staff didn't have basic prep skills. They've brought in a chef (one of only 2 in town) and he's having to retrain the staff in the basics. That of course takes away his ability to focus on food - but will result in a staff who does things his way.

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As the chef of a small(50 seat) restaurant, i choose not to use SYSCO for any number of reasons, the main being service. We are not anyones largest account, so we are an afterthought as far as special requests. Minimums dont work for us either. Besides, the only stuff I would purchas from them would be paper goods, plastic wrap, foil, portion baggies, pan liners, floor cleaner, etc... so 1 big order and I'm good for 3 months, the salesmen ignore me because of this. So I go with the #2 guys US Foods, still hit me with minimums but my rep likes what I do. Get my produce from a produce vendor, meat from a meat vendor, fish from , well you get the idea. The one stop shopping leaves you at their mercy.

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At one restaurant I worked for, Sysco would bring us organic fruits and vegetables, some very nice prawns (head attached and everything), as well as all of our stuff like paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc...

Not everything they stock is crap, our rep would go out of his way to find nice, local stuff for us (and a few other restaurants). They have much more buying power than a single restaurant, and in many ways this is an advantage.

Then again I don't know if Sysco up here (Canada) is different than down there, but we were getting some nice stuff from them. And yes, everyday we'd give the rep a hard time about who he works for, their processed shit, etc..., and everyday he'd joke about adding that stuff to our order...

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At another place that I was at a few years ago, our rep was fantastic, would really go the mile to get things we needed or they knew we would maybe have an interest in.

Their "corporate chef" in town sampled us some fennel pollen, I had a dessert using it in 24 hours.

She got us some TV stuff too.

This was in 2003, I think.

Since then, and I believe Sysco got a new CEO or something, everything has seemingly changed to

sell it all to them, one stop, etc.

When I'm making ice cream & sorbets for my stuff and I find a bunch of samples of some ice cream SYSCO bought in for the owners and exec to taste?

Well. besides pissing me off, I've been known to slowly sample all of it to my staff, the dishwashers, servers, etc.

As a consultant in Miami doing R&D I found SYSCO not real willing to go out of their way.

I've liked US foods at the places I've worked where they purvey.

Being the only game in town sucks for people.

Edited by tan319 (log)

2317/5000

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Here in VT we use two companies for the majority of our product buying. Burlington Food Service, which is now owned by Rheinhart (sp?) is who we buy most of our dry goods from. Their drivers are annoying to say the least and pushy about accepting product to say the best. For raw ingredients we use Black River Produce and sometimes Sid Weiner (sp?) who provide better service, lower minimums, and a generally better product. They also work with the local purveyors to provide in-season foods direct from farms.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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Much of this discussion is about service which can vary from day-to-day and city-to-city. What about the food? Is there good Sysco food (or similar distributors) or is it all overly processed tripe? It also sounds like there is a difference between Canadian Sysco and US Sysco - which I remember reading in other topics.

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Don't know if this is germain, but I had an opportunity to tour the Sysco distribution center juso outside of Columbia, SC a few years ago and was overwhelmed by the place.

I have no idea how many thousands of square feet it encompases but there were three or four freezing rooms (of various temps) that hand trucks drove into. And all of the over the road trucks are monitore by the minute for adherance to schedule. Amazing tour.

At lunch the guy in charge made an interesting observation. He said how FedEx is jusstifiably praised or their distribution prowess, but noted that operations like Sysco didn't only maintain scheduling, etc., but didn't deal with parcels brought to them, Rather, they not only deliver but must purchase and inventory too. Eye opening.

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Gfron: "It seems to me that these companies set atop a slippery slope for restaurant buyers. It is "easy" for a chef to use these distributors because of the convenience, and sometimes the price, but where do chefs draw their line. For example, a chef may start by buying frozen chicken breasts. Then the convenience of having them pre-cut in strips for the chicken salad creeps in. Then why not get the teriyaki merinated strips...saves another step doesn't it? And so the food is no longer the restaurant's, it seems to me, but the distributors - in essence private labelling."

Not Sysco's fault. I'm not saying this to defend a Corporate giant, but its just plain economics. They do a pretty good job, as much as I hate to admit that. My salesman works very hard to service the account, and he is a former Chef, so therefore, he understands the business.

They do have some higher end products available through partnerships, such as Honolulu Fish Co., and others, whereby, they simply handle the accounting of the order. Very convenient.

An interesting point was raised about Canada VS US Sysco. I'd like to think that Canada is more like Europe than the US, in terms of food/restaurant culture. If anybody can add to that, I'd be interested to know if Canada's kitchens/restaurants operate as they do in the US. This is probably worth a thread on its own.

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I am a large Sysco account, using them for restuarant product across the board.

Ecolab is exclusive thru Sysco, I use them for paper products, Plastic wrap, foil Smallwares and equipment etc. I mostly don't use them for the center of the plate items, but I do buy alot of food items. The stapels like flour, salt, canola oil, baking supplies, tomato products, condiments etc.

They also have a program called Chef-ex, where I can get quality artisan product, like white marble farms pork and black forbidden rice.

I am not pitching Sysco, because most of my protien still goes to the speciality venders.

If the purchasing was with my money, I could have all the opinions I want. Otherwise I need to make the best decision for my boss.

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I should amend a statement I made above.

I don't think there's any questioning about their "quality" most of the time.

I also agree that the chef or executive chef will set the tone for ordering.

If they don't want to deal with 3 or 4 sources because of time, whatever, then Sysco fills their needs.

2317/5000

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I think they all have the same end results it just depends on how much you want to spend - I have seen Sysco, US Foods, PFG and they all have goods and bads. Prices are important and I think they all have good stuff - but like the post said - where is the love in the food - no one knows how to use knife skills. cut it out of a bag is avai;lable at all of them. I hated PFG in VA - Sysco was great - here in GA PFG screws up some by not having what I need but not as bad as in VA - US foods has whatever I need - the rep is great - we don't use sysco becasue the Exec hates them - no real reasons given to me...

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We've used Sysco off and on for years. More off than on. We're in a unique position - because we're kosher we can't use a lot of their products. We've been through a lot of reps and over the last few years I've been told that there 'used to be a kosher product list'. Used to doesn't help me. That's neither here not there - it's just annoying.

What I have found over the years is that more often than not, items that I'm told about or given samples of invariably turn out to be special order items. It can take 2 weeks to get these items in from Toronto or Calgary, and quite frankly that doesn't work for me.

We just got a new rep. yesterday, but when I was dealing with the last guy I was trying to give him business. I'd ask for prices on all the staples that we use - eggs, flour, sugar, potatoes, onions, carrots - and every item (but the potatoes - once) was more expensive than at the local cash/carry wholesale. As a small business owner those 2-3 dollars a case or sack are too much to ignore.

Doesn't anybody else find them expensive?

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We've used Sysco off and on for years.  More off than on.  We're in a unique position - because we're kosher we can't use a lot of their products.  We've been through a lot of reps and over the last few years I've been told that there 'used to be a kosher product list'.  Used to doesn't help me. That's neither here not there - it's just annoying.

What I have found over the years is that more often than not, items that I'm told about or given samples of invariably turn out to be special order items.  It can take 2 weeks to get these items in from Toronto or Calgary, and quite frankly that doesn't work for me.

We just got a new rep. yesterday, but when I was dealing with the last guy I was trying to give him business.  I'd ask for prices on all the staples that we use - eggs, flour, sugar, potatoes, onions, carrots - and every item (but the potatoes - once) was more expensive than at the local cash/carry wholesale.  As a small business owner those 2-3 dollars a case or sack are too much to ignore.

Doesn't anybody else find them expensive?

Yes

2317/5000

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Have been told by a culinary instructor that you could actually put together a menu of entirely premade product from companies like Sysco. Scary.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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I work at a country club where we use Sysco for much of our stuff and a couple of local vendors for fish, produce etc. For some reason-I don't do the ordering-sometimes we get part of our produce from Sysco instead of the local guys-and I have to say with some things Sysco does a surprisingly good job. Their bagged green onions and herbs are always nice and green and fresh, while the locals try and pawn limp bedraggled crap on us. I suppose that being a huge corporation they have specs for all that sort of thing, which is definitely an advantage.

As far as their providing precut stuff, so what? We certainly don't use it, but lots of fast food and fast-casual places sure do. It's loads more cost-effective than training people to use knives properly, and cuts down on injuries too, and when you have a 300% turnover rate these things become vitally important.

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I wonder what their sourcing is on produce. For example, if the green bean is being served in Austin, and maybe it comes from a Sysco hub in Dallas, where is their provider, and where is the farm? Not talking about food miles, but freshness and crispness can be a result of many things - some good and some bad. Anybody know - does it all go through one central hub for the nation, or regional breakdowns?

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Little googling shows Sysco with 46,000 employees servicing 400,000 locations. I imagine you could email them and ask how much time harvest to delivery would be to your location.

Be warned though they are going you to hear that from an account rep so act like you the place.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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probably gmo-ed to hell & back) , they still needed 5 people + a chef, not including line guys.

That would make the rpoduct too expencive.

Living hard will take its toll...
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I wonder what their sourcing is on produce.  For example, if the green bean is being served in Austin, and maybe it comes from a Sysco hub in Dallas, where is their provider, and where is the farm?  Not talking about food miles, but freshness and crispness can be a result of many things - some good and some bad.  Anybody know - does it all go through one central hub for the nation, or regional breakdowns?

Sysco contracts a lot of their produce business to local produce vendors, albeit the large operators with established distribution networks. I have a long and fairly checkered history with Sysco. I've been using Sysco San Diego for the last 6 years and I have to say they've been an excellent house for us.

We do use one of Sysco's affiliated produce vendors for most of our produce needs. Sysco brought the vendor to us, we did not seek out this vendor. The downside is that the produce comes out of the L.A. market not San Diego, but then again so does almost all the produce in SD. Even the small produce guys in SD get their produce from LA and operate out of a SD depot. So the problem arises when the truck out of LA is short or produce is rejected. Our produce vendor has a local rep who takes care of these issues. The up side has been that our pricing has been relatively stable, even when the market isn't, because of the buying power of both Sysco and the vendor, and by and large, the quality of the product we get is very, very good. Freshness has not been a significant problem, and when it has been, the vendor has either given us a credit or replaced the offending produce ASAP. We have often ordered specialty items for catering or special events and have gotten almost everything we've asked for at a reasonable cost.

One thing I have learned over the years is that not all Sysco houses are created equal and a lot will depend on how good the branch president is and how strong his supporting Vice Presidents are. I am a medium large account for Sysco SD (approx. $1,000,000 in food purchases annually), I know the branch President and most of the VPs, my sales rep has been the branch salesman of the year for 3 out of the last 4 years. They've worked with me on price points and menu development. This is the first Sysco house that has ever taken an interest in me and my operations, and I have managed larger operations with greater purchasing power than my current one. It's been my experience in dealing with Sysco for nearly 30 years that they are only as good as the people operating the local branch. My present experience in SD is certainly not typical of what I've experienced, but because they've got committed people working in the SD branch I've been able to control costs and expand menu options.

Sysco is an easy target because they are too big, but they do serve a purpose and they do allow many, many restaurants and food service operations to continue to sell food at reasonable prices, and in a market where the number of meals eaten away from home continues to grow, keeping menu prices stable and reasonable is always important. I would love to be able to purchase from small distributors, but my reality has been that they don't have the capacity to provide the level of service I need, nor can they sell me product at competitive prices, though Costco can come close and they're hardly a small operator.

Sysco produce is decent to good and often times better than what one can get at a grocery store, including upscale grocery stores. And trust me on this, Sysco is pulling up to fine dining establishments as much as it is the Denny's of the world because it offers the industry a way to get consistent product at reasonably low prices.

Also, if you play the stock market watch the Sysco stock. It is a consistent performer and while it's been a little flat over the last year to 18 months, it returns solid growth if the stock is held over time. The value of the stock went up for 64 straight quarters before flattening out. It will probably be flat for another year or so, but as the economy begins to recover from the real estate issues it's got now, the Sysco stock should begin it's upward march again. Why include this? Because, like everything else, food is an integreal part of the economy and when one part gets a cold, the rest of the parts sneeze in sympathy. :wink:

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've worked with Sysco a couple of times, and to me they are the evil empire. Sales people that don't care and more importantly DON'T GET what you're all about..if I'm running a fine dining establishment, what the fuck do I want with frozen appetizers? I told one sales guy I wasn't interested in dealing with Sysco at least half a dozen times, so the guy goes over my head to the owner of my restaurant to pitch his stuff. For bulk stuff I dealt with FSA, much better customer service and they consistently beat Sysco's pricing.

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  • 3 weeks later...

A new thought on this topic. Yesterday I judged an apple pie contest along with two trained chefs - both of whom use Sysco (or equivalent). There were two pies that had unusual tastes - atypical tastes. As we discussed the flavor, the two chefs were unable to discern the source. I quickly identified one as almond - specifically extract; and the other green chile - specifically roasted and fresh, not frozen.

While that was not a controlled experiment, nor would I claim cause-effect, it did lead me to wonder if their tasting abilities have been homogenized. Since I'm not in the business, I create flavors and source unique flavors (hence the 10 different salts in my cupboard). My hypothesis is that they have hindered or limited their tasting abilities by using products from Sysco. Just a thought, not an attack.

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  • 1 year later...

A year since my last comment and I thought I should update my thoughts on Sysco. As many of you know I took over my cafè this past August. Its done very well for our town. I inherited Zanios, a regional food distributor, who is nothing special, but they have good meats and good overall prices. After a few weeks I contacted Sysco because I wanted Niman Ranch meats which I knew they carried. Of course I had to meet their minimum order amounts. So I added on some paper products and sugar.

Fast forward to present time. I order from Zanios weekly and Sysco every other week. Why? Its not their food quality, but rather a very nice, but less ambitious sales rep. Zanios' rep offers me convenience by his weekly visits. I see the Sysco rep only when I call him.

Sysco has turned out to be about 5% higher than Zanios on everything. They just recently decreased their fuel surcharge - the ONLY company out of the 80+ that I source from that has so far even though diesel is $2.29 in our neck of the woods.

As to quality. It is as stated previously in this thread. The quality depends on what you buy. My rep always offers me good, better, best. And you pay accordingly.

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