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Ahh.. Sysco, yep those boys are here in Vancouver too.

I don't/won't deal with them, and for 2 reasons

1) I tend to buy locally, produce from a produce guy, meat from a meat guy, poultry, from a , well you get the idea. Dairy and pop come from Costco, I can't ignore that, there's almost a 40% difference on dairy there. Basically, my money is spread all over the place that I won't make minimum delivery charges on a big supplier

2)It's true they have a very varied catalouge, but I have eyes, and I know what's going on. I know Sysco purchases Italian stuff (xvoo, tomato products, pasta, etc) from a large local independant Italian importer, I know this becasue I live 4 blocks away from the importer and I see the Sysco trucks loading up. I buy my pastry stuff from other, localized pastry suppliers and see the Sysco trucks loading up there too. After Sysco adds thier mark-up it's waaay to expensive for me.

3) Sales reps. A good rep can really make or break the relationship. Problem is I'm a small business, earning under 1/2 million p/a. No supplier will put small businesses on the "good" rep's route, it doesn't make sense, the "good' reps get the "good" accounts--the ones over 1 and 2 million. This leaves the small guy with the noobie rep, and I have seen a distinct pattern with noobie reps: Waltzing in the kitchen during service or during plate-up during banquets, demanding the Chef's times, cracking open their handy-dandy laptop and confused and befuddled at the price lists, with the Chef peering over their shoulder and telling them the actual code for the item he wants. Then there's the "prophet of doom and gloom" syndrome too, reps coming in and telling you that prices have gone up on such and such items. Well Gee-golly-wilikers Mr. Rep., why didn't inform me before the prices went up so I could stock up and buffer myself a bit? You put out your signal light before you make the turn, not during or after, right?

IMHO giants play best with other giants. The big boys do best with big accounts like the hotels and and clubs, the unionized places where they'd rather pay higher food costs for convienience products than pay higher labour costs. Large institutions require large quantities and can negotiate and lock in prices all based on contracted quantities. This is a win-win situation for both supplier and client, but it is not feasable or possible for small accounts.

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Of course I had to meet their minimum order amounts. 

That can go away too. You just have to convince your rep that you really want it to. Reps can make a lot of things happen in regards to company policies and prices but you have to make them do it, they usually won't offer. I can get drops on tuesdays and fridays and I can call my rep, say "errrr... I kinda forgot to order (insert misc. item here) for tuesday" and they'll drop it on friday. Just that one item. No extra charge, no minimum order fee, nothing. We're not a large account either. Don't fall for their "we're actually doing you a favor, there's not much profit in small restaurant accounts" attitude either. They tried that with us, we said "ok, drop us then if we're an inconvenience". Five years later, we're still not dropped.

I think some consideration should be given to location when discussing the evils of large suppliers like Sysco. We're in a somewhat remote location over an hour from the nearest major highway and several hours from the nearest large city in an area that's very cold for at least half the year and pretty cold for a lot of the other half so local growers, farmers, etc. don't exist and small specialty companies don't even attempt to market here even on request (not for any realistic prices anyway). We've managed to snag the meat guy who services the summer tourist camps and he delivers to us in the summer months/ships to us in the winter but he won't do that for anyone else locally and we have no promise that he won't decide it's not worth the trouble someday. Other than that, it's Sysco or a couple of Sysco-type upstarts that can't touch Sysco on variety and quality. So, while it would be nice to say "I only buy from the local marketplace and write my menu based on what I find" and I envy those who get to do that, it's not always realistic. The closest it gets to sourcing locally here is going to the one and only local grocery store... which gets most of it's stuff from Sysco.

Another thing I want to touch on in this already too-long post is the convenience items. Yes, Sysco does sell them and their reps do push them but they can't make you buy them and use them. If you do, you can't blame Sysco. Blame the person that buys it from them.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Hold on, if the big boys work for you, then fair enough. From your post you sound like a smart operator, and whatever works, works.

I must admit that being in large city I am spoiled for choices, and running my own business, I do have a vested interst in keeping food cost as low as possible.

As you wrote in your post, and as I mentioned in mine, a lot depends on the rep, and my problem is that I have always had a noobie rep. If the rep gets wise and starts to learn his stuff--off he goes to the bigger and better accounts and I get a noobie again, waltzing in and trying to interrupt me as I'm puttting together a party.

Now when a noob rep waltzes in and lays his briefcase on my Swiss (Rondo) doughsheeter, sees me taking out hand-made puffpastry appies out of the oven and lays in to his schpeil about frozen convienience appteizers--or barring that, frozen puff heads (at quintiple the price the price I can produce them for---and I use real butter...) I already have bad feelings.

When the rep walks past flattened waxed boxes from the local poultry supplier and then proceeds to flog his brand of IQF chix brsts at me (@17% pump...) I get peeved off. Why? If the guy can use his eyes there's a "lil chief" smoker crammed full of home made brined chix brsts, a table full of boned out carcasses being stuffed into 3 kg bags (ideal for my 20 qt steam kettle, I work with liberal amounts of chix stock every day) boned out leg meat in 2 kg blocks on the same table ready for the freezer, and a pot of chick.skin, fat, and aromatics being rendered down for chicken fat to use for soups and what-not. The rep doesn't have eyes, and I don't have the patience to play 20 questions with him on what product lines he's carrying.

The rep eyes my dry-store shelves and sees that I DON'T have any instant hollandaise powder, freezable white sauce powder, salt and yeast laden beef/chick stock powder, instant pudding mixes, jello, or neon-green mint jelly, and then proceeds to tell me about how much my life will be easier if I do buy that schtuff...

Well....then I just ask the dude to leave.

A lot hangs on the rep. Maybe the country reps are better experienced and use thier eyes first before fobbing off the convienience schtufff......

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Yeah - Tri2Cook and I are in similar boats. I don't have the option of reps. Sysco has one guy in our town. He's young and hasn't worked in restaurants before. He's always impressed by whatever I'm doing ("Dude, you know how to make croissants from scratch?") But you know what - as long as I'm in control of my decisions, I don't care. Buyer beware - prices and selection. At least my rep knows not to even ask about convenience items. Did on day one and not since. He does know to tell me about sales items that are cheap that can fill my case minimum up. I love their bottled water deals :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

The thing with Sysco is that they're only as good as your individual food rep is... We recently went to one of their shows and realized the full extent of what's available: the ChefEx thing is an improvement that our rep had neglected to tell us about. We've more or less phased them out at this point, and only order once a month. But, there are certain things that we can get from them that we cannot get from our other guys: Maitake mushrooms for example, or the really good Italian pesto, etc.

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  • 1 year later...

Eh, I could sit here and trash Sysco for being the big bad corp, that only sells pre-marked IQF Chicken and overcharges you for dough scrapers by 3x..... but in reality, they are only as bad as you let them be. Like Edwardj said, a lot depends on your rep. In the past, I have had those reps that will show up while i'm in the middle of rolling out pasta dough, plop out some cheap ass premade sauce and frozen raviolis and wonder why i'm frowning at him, but i've also had the reps who see the pork jowls curing in my walkin for guanciale, know that I probably won't go for a lot of the sysco reheat and serve crap, and turn out to be very useful reps in finding me some really nice stuff that I actually can use.

As a general rule though, they do tend to be a bit pricer than a lot of the other distributers, and in my experiences anyway, finding a decent rep isn't always easy to do, so for the most part I do stay away from Sysco, but I don't have much against them. I much prefer to do most, if not all of my business with smaller local guys - because I love supporting them, and 99% of the time their stuff is just better than other stuff I could get anyway, but i'm not opposed to Sysco if my rep is a good one.

Edited by MattyC (log)

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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  • 3 weeks later...

We were doing a tasting of prime steaks which were to be featured on our menu.

We asked GFS and Sysco reps to bring us their respective cuts.

Mind you, we are paying in the $12-$14 per pound range for these.

The GFS rep not only brought several beautifully marbled cuts and took the time to explain the grading process, butchering, and even the availability of different thicknesses of the cuts. He also stood there and explained the best grilling methods for each cut and the origin of the butchering at their own facility. All in all, he spent over an hour with us, even participating in the tasting.

The next day, the SYSCO rep came.

He brought some cuts that looked like they came from the corner supermarket.

When asked some of the same questions as the GFS rep, he did not really know the answers.

He actually walked in with a small box and said "Here are the steaks for you to try".

Then, he wanted to sit down talk to the manager about putting together an order.

We gave his steaks the fairest test we could, (he was nowhere to be found) since he was making a sales pitch to the GM.

Needless to say, SYSCO steaks were no comparison to the GFS meat.

We now buy Filets, Strips, Ribeyes, and Top Sirloins from GFS and have had nothing but consistent quality throughout.

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To make some of you all feel better- when I worked at Whole foods in Lincoln Park Chicago the SYSCO truck made almost "secret" nighttime deliveries.... just sayin'. I have no formal blanket opinion on the comany what so ever- some of their stuff is pretty decent, some things on the other hand look as though they were the famer or bucher's rejects.

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  • 2 months later...

We've been running a small farm-to-fork B&B on an island in Washington State and sourcing of some items is hard. The Chefex section of Sysco has allowed me to get things like Med. couscous, some specialty cheese and some rarer spices, although ordering online from Frontier has turned out to be a better deal, also bulkfoods.com

We get a nice semolina for pasta, and their orange juice, in blind tasting to Tropicana with our staff came out better. We only buy about $200-300/week from them, but to be able to order at 3:00 pm and have a quarter round of real parm reggiano show up the next morning is pretty nice. Some of their cheese suppliers are pretty good. Their warehousing helps me reduce my inventory costs. I can get Tillamook aged white cheddar from Sysco when I can't even get it from Tillamook!

The food shows they put on helped me look at vendors I did not know, like ground tomatoes from Escalon. I was able to taste about 6 different canned tomato vendors and really liked that one.

Veggies can be pretty spotty, I usually need to really read the material our rep sends out from their fresh sheet guys. They also source a local bacon that is very very good, but I had to find out from the butcher that they had it available.

Their new online ordering system is a bit better than their old system in terms of finding more interesting products.

Edited by rlped (log)

Oregon Crêpe Company,LLC

have crêpe will travel

...pies too!

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  • 2 months later...

We are currently only using Sysco for dry goods, maybe once a week. We use a produce company for all of our produce anI have to say that the USFoods meat program is better than the Sysco meat program by far.

The new Sysco Hereford meat line was mushy and flavorless compared to the CAB program USFoods has. The fish company they are working with couldn't get us fresh product half the time, other times they would send us a 14 lb halibut when we needed a 40-50 lb fish. Sent back so much fish because it was packed wrong, old, smelly, atlantic salmon instead of scottish. Although USFoods wasn't much better since every time we wanted to order a fish they had to ADD it to their inventory - it was a painful process. We eventually hooked up with a small company run by some former chefs that gets us the best looking fish I've ever seen, and essentially any fish we want.

Once slow season hits I think chef is going to find a meat purveyor too and only use Sysco and USFoods for dry goods. He cut his teeth at Norman van Aken's place and was a sous at Charlie Trotter's though so your mileage may vary :)

Edited by boondocker (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I live in Austin and I have to say Sysco is AWSOME. Sometimes they come in and personnally take our order and ask us directly what we need. Kitchen spoons, strainers, new wagyu options, whatever. They're great to work with and take good care of us. And the quality of their food is not "crap", they're just as good as what you'd get at your local HEB. I've never worked in a 4star restaurant, but I don't think they use organic everything either.

That aside, we are a pretty big ~100 seat restaurant that serves ho-hum food. So make your own judgements based on that.

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  • 1 month later...
That's an angle I hadn't thought about...what this does to the learning opportunities of food professionals.

Judging from the material I am getting as externs and lines from even the "A-list" culinary schools, knife skills and basic garde manger and prep aren't that much of a focus, anymore. I meet externs who can, on end, belabor the various Middle Eastern dishes they learned, but have a hard time doing a champignon tourné or even a simple "hey, battonette me those taters over there, willya".

Butchering a chicken? Done maybe three times before coming to me and getting into the weeds having to do twenty before shift.

Companies like Sysco love that. I get the pitch every week, how much labor I could save if I went for the pre-cut breasts and - because now I don't have carcasses anymore - the nicely pre-packaged 3 gallon jugs of "luxury chicken stock". And, let's face it, when even my competitor with the Michelin star down the street buys his stock pre-made, why should I stick with it? Sure, I will, I like mine a little different than the packaged stuff, but if it's good enough for the Red Book...

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