Some firms choose to keep their customers at arms’ length, but not Performance Food Group (PFG). “We feel like it’s still important for our people to be able to [get to know] our customers,” Fred Sanelli says. “It’s a relationship business.”
With a staff of more than 12,000, PFG is the parent company for several foodservice distributors, including Performance Foodservice (which includes Roma Food), Vistar and PFG Customized Distribution. PFG delivers food and related products to more than 130,000 clients across the United States.
Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williamson credits PFG’s success to its staff. “It’s the execution in the field that really drives the results,” he says.
When hiring, the company looks for people with experience and the right attitude for working at PFG. “They have to be a certain type of individual,” he says, explaining that they have to be able to cope with conditions such as erratic schedules.
“You don’t know if you’re going to end work at the same time every night,” he states.
Running the Gamut
PFG’s customer base “runs the gamut,” says Sanelli, the senior vice president of marketing, brands and sales development for Performance Foodservice. He notes that PFG serves “independent restaurant operators, hospitals, hotels, schools and some of the country’s largest national chains or anywhere that broadline foodservice” applies.
PFG is pitted against many competitors in its industry, and it sets itself apart by taking the role of a customer’s support group, Sanelli says. “What we do is we focus on our people, our products and our innovations that are directly interfaced with the customer, and what [our clients need] locally,” he says.
For example, if PFG’s clients need to add SKUs to its brand portfolio, the company is always willing to look at the opportunity, Sanelli says. “We take that extremely seriously,” he asserts.
However, PFG already has a broad line of items for its clients to choose from, including its Roma Italian ingredient products and its Braveheart Black Angus Beef. The beef, Sanelli notes, can be traced back to the farms and animals they came from, thanks to Braveheart’s DNA TraceBack system. This not only adds another layer of assurance around what the product is and its source, but also improves the eating quality of every steak or burger, Sanelli adds.
This gives consumers more knowledge of where their food originated. “None of our competitors are doing that,” Sanelli states.
Another product is PFG’s Bacio Cheese, which is a premium mozzarella, Sanelli says. “‘Bacio’ translates into ‘kiss’ in Italian and it’s made with a kiss of buffalo milk,” he describes.
PFG’s customers have become more knowledgeable about food and foodservice. “That’s a good thing for everybody, really,” Sanelli asserts.
“As a result of them becoming more educated, they’re needing a lot more information,” he states. “We need to give them tools to keep their establishments busy and to attract and retain customers and employees.”
As part of this initiative, Performance Foodservice recently revamped the order entry system for its customers and salespeople. “This gives them information at their fingertips [related] to nutrition, ingredients and allergens,” he says.
The company also changed its websites to give them a better customer experience, Sanelli says. At the same time, www.foodcentric.com, a food writer’s blog, was launched to talk about industry issues, including emerging flavors, menu trends and directions, food production, nutrition, and all things food.
The company also has launched Menuetta, which is an integrated marketing, loyalty and social media platform that manages its customers’ menus, websites, mobile sites and Facebook pages. The platform also follows the performance of its customers’ promotional campaigns. “That will help [customers] see what the program is worth,” Sanelli says.
Menuetta also helps its clients update their menus, Sanelli says. “If someone added a calzone or a chicken fricassee to the menu, they can update all their mobile stuff with one click,” he says. “It really allows the restaurant operator to become mobile.”
A New Connection
At the end of September, Performance Foodservice launched PERFORMANCEconnect, a mobile app for iOS devices that features recipes; rebates; market trends; news and ideas, including building tips and product information; and videos on topics that range from new products to food shows. It also allows users to track their deliveries, Sanelli says.
“Timing matters in the foodservice business, so we’re excited to provide our customers with the ability to track their delivery status so they can prepare and plan accordingly,” Sanelli says. “Our PERFORMANCEconnect mobile app offers a single source for relevant and timely information that our customers need and require to stay competitive and successful.”
The app also allows the company’s customers to create lists of their favorite ideas, recipes and rebates so they are available when they are needed. “PERFORMANCEconnect rounds out our digital communications toolbox, enabling us to stay totally engaged with our customers,” Sanelli continues. “We’re providing them with information and resources that will deliver value and help them improve their operations.”
PFG is proud of its cheese blending, shredding and dicing facility located in Rice, Minn. It has been in operation since 1978.
Additionally, “We blend, shred and dice up to 2 million pounds a week from that facility,” Sanelli explains. “We haven’t ever had a request we couldn’t accommodate.”
The facility serves both PFG’s operating companies as well as its customers who have their own special needs and specifications for their products. “It is truly a science,” Sanelli declares. “The owner comes to us with his idea for what they want their cheese to be.”
During the process, PFG visits its customers’ locations to determine what they are using and what they like about their cheese products.
“From our experience, we create a blend that will meet and match their current product,” Sanelli says. “Our goal is to match what the customer is using; we do not want their guest to notice any changes.”
PFG then will develop blends for its customers to sample, until the company finds just the right match. “This can take many months and many samples,” Sanelli admits, adding that the company manufactures up to 1,000 different cheese blends.
“Since we source cheese from so many different manufacturers, we have an advantage over our competitors,” Sanelli says. “We can offer our customer endless variety to meet their requirements.”
These products include organic and hormone-free cheese, which the company sells to a broad range of customers, including schools, theme parks, diners and healthcare clients. “We now can be a cheese solution provider for our customers,” Sanelli says.
One of PFG’s customers, Sanelli notes, is New York Pizzeria Inc., a restaurant franchise chain based in Houston. With PFG’s blends, he notes, the company has achieved honors, such as appearing in Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, as well as being named one of the top 120 restaurants in the United States by Entrepreneur magazine in 2009.
Staffing can be an issue for PFG, Williamson says. “Just getting good, qualified people who want to do those jobs [and retain them] becomes [challenging],” he explains, noting that the company copes by continuing to focus on treating its staff fairly.
Additionally, “Driver shortages [are] becoming a challenge,” Williamson says. “We are actively looking forward to putting some task forces together to figure out how we can put together our own [group of] drivers.”
Sanelli adds that PFG will continue focusing on helping its customers be better operators. “[That] is key to the success of [our] company,” he says. “The customer knows which direction they want to go.”