Nearly 10 years ago, the $40 billion Sysco Corporation recognized a serious weakness in its business model. Like other food industry giants, Sysco achieved a leading position by offering its restaurant and institutional customers, such as schools and hospitals, the lowest prices and the most convenient service.
But the industry’s successful focus on constantly streamlining, to gain more and more effciencies, had resulted in a very narrow product selection that many customers were questioning and rejecting. Restaurant chefs and school cafeterias, for example, were beginning to ask for products that Sysco could no longer source easily as a result of an industrial approach to food sourcing and distribution that Sysco and other major food companies helped to develop.
But restaurants, schools and other food service customers now want more flavor, variety and meaningful connections to the people and places behind their food than this far-flung system can provide. They want fresh-picked apples and more types from which to choose. They want the story behind the apple –about its heritage and its farmer, for example. They want to support local farms and local economies. They also want more accountability regarding labor and environmental practices.
Thus began Sysco’s journey from its mainline food supply chain model to a new values-based food supply chain, or value chain, approach to sourcing, selling, and distributing food.