Restaurants

Food distributors are catering to new clients: the public

"It means so much to us to fulfill a pressing need for people who are staying at home during these uncertain times," said Jeff Kotzen, vice president of J.W. Lopes.

J.W. Lopes
Produce from J.W. Lopes. LAZ PR

Trips to the grocery store have started to feel a little dystopian. Some shelves are bare. Reusable bags are no longer allowed. Slabs of meat are pointed at and ordered from behind a taped line, six feet away from the counter. Is it any wonder you want to avoid the grocery store altogether — and maybe shop from your favorite restaurant’s distributor instead?

Last week, Bronx-based wholesaler Baldor Specialty Foods launched a home delivery service in Boston and Philadelphia, after a successful launch the week prior in New York City. The service, which will continue throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, gives the public access to Baldor’s extensive inventory of fresh produce and other staples: meat, vegetables, fruits, smoked fish, herbs, pasta, spices, yogurt, honey, jams, and more. Thousands of items that Baldor previously supplied to its restaurant clients, which include Little Donkey, Myers & Chang, Orfano, and Sweet Cheeks, are now available to the public.

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“We’re keeping our employees busy, our food moving through the supply chain, and, most importantly, providing a valuable service to customers in the communities we serve who prefer to have their food delivered during these challenging times,” Baldor CEO TJ Murphy said in a press release.

Customers within a 15-mile radius of Boston are eligible to order from Baldor Boston, with a minimum order of $250 required (tax and delivery are included). So far, 20,000 new members have signed up companywide, and 600 new members have signed up for delivery in Boston. Ben Walker, vice president of sales and marketing at Baldor Specialty Foods, told Boston.com that he expects that number to grow exponentially.

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“Consumers do not want to leave the house and potentially expose themselves, so we are bringing the grocery store to them,” Walker said.

J.W. Lopes, a Chelsea-based distributor whose local clients include Giulia, O Ya, Stella, Toscano, and Waypoint, also recently began offering its bevy of fresh produce to local shoppers. Jeff Kotzen, vice president of J.W. Lopes, shared in an e-mail that more than 1,000 people have signed up for the company’s home delivery service so far, prompting the business to launch a new concept called New England Country Mart.

“It means so much to us to fulfill a pressing need for people who are staying at home during these uncertain times,” Kotzen said. “People are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their families, and we are now able to deliver to them the same level of quality and customer service we have provided our wholesale and restaurant clients for over 100 years. They appreciate that we drop the delivery right to their door and they don’t have to engage with anyone or go to the grocery store.”

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Customers can purchase a premium select produce box for $74.95, including delivery; additional produce from J.W. Lopes’s partners can be added, too. In an effort to continue supporting the Massachusetts restaurant industry, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the Restaurant Strong Fund.

Smaller, more specialized purveyors have made their produce available to the public, too, including:

  • Tyler Akabane, who forages for and sells mushrooms to Boston area restaurants, is now delivering mushroom packages to residents across the city. You can sign up for his next delivery run here.
  • Wulf’s Fish, a seafood purveyor who previously sold most of its haul to restaurants across the country, has made its inventory available to the public for delivery, offering wholesale prices of Nordic Blu salmon, mahi-mahi, swordfish, and more.
  • T.F. Kinnealey & Co., a family-run meat company, processes and distributes meat to New England restaurants, hotels, country clubs, and beyond — and it recently launched Kinnealey At Your Door, where anyone can purchase cuts of prime rib eye, Colorado lamb leg, and pork chops, delivered the next day via FedEx.

Another good reason to start ordering through distributors: It helps the farms that have suddenly seen a portion of their business disappear.

“Our farm partners are struggling,” Walker said. “As the spring season approaches, they cannot plant with confidence because they have fewer guaranteed orders from wholesalers and distributors like us. And protein farms are halting breeding because they have an overabundance of meat and poultry that is not moving as quickly through the system. We hope [Baldor’s] new home delivery program will relocate some of the product that was originally set to go to restaurants and other food service establishments. It’s good for the consumer, for Baldor, and the farmer.”


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