In the upcoming September issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, we highlight the pandemic pivots made by Sysco and US Foods in 2020 due to COVID-19 and its effect on foodservice clients like restaurants, hotels, caterers, stadiums, and other volume venues.

While putting that story together, we also had a chance to speak to another foodservice distribution giant, Golden State Foods (GSF) and its Chairman and CEO, Mark Wetterau. GSF was started in 1947, and today, it’s a $5 billion company with 6,000 employees, and is one of the foodservice industry’s largest diversified suppliers. GSF serves more than 125,000 restaurants in approximately 40 countries on five continents, and controls its cold supply chain, processing and distributing its own protein, dairy, liquid and produce products, and delivering them to customers via its fleet of temperature-controlled trucks. Here, Wetterau details GSF’s own pandemic pivots to help keep business going in 2020.

R&FF: As a foodservice distributor, what have been the biggest changes to your business in 2020?

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly turned our world upside down in many ways. It’s slowed down our industry substantially. It’s caused our customers to close many of their stores and challenged them to become more innovative in how they serve their customers. GSF and our family of companies provide essential services as part of the Critical Infrastructure Industries identified by the Department of Homeland Security. Our customers and fellow citizens need us now more than ever. Through all the challenges and uncertainties, I’ve been so proud of our GSF team worldwide. Our 6,000 associates around the globe have persevered in taking care of our customers and each other with courage, strength, safety, flexibility and optimism.

R&FF: What are some examples of successfully pivoting your business model in 2020?

GSF’s food manufacturing businesses have seized opportunities to bring assured supply to the food supply chain. Responding to excess dairy milk dumping, KanPak U.S. (a subsidiary of GSF) fast-tracked a surplus bottled milk donation to market, assuring a supply of premium, whole milk to U.S. food banks serving those experiencing food insecurity. To alleviate shortages in grocery stores, GSF Protein Products initiated an emergency ground beef supply by leveraging its robust volumes and supply chain network. In recent months, our Liquid Products North America business leveraged its volume capabilities across three U.S. production facilities to assure customer supply and meet increased demands from quick service restaurants.

R&FF: What areas of your business have been relatively unaffected by the pandemic?

Our food manufacturing and distribution business have been affected by the pandemic but have steadily moved in the direction of recovery.

R&FF: How are you guiding your customers affected by the pandemic and shutdowns?

We have robust business continuity plans and contingency plans. Our high-quality operations, associate teamwork, and customer alignment have continued to be a leading example to our industry and to the supply chain for our customers. We’re working upstream with our suppliers and downstream with our customers to ensure we support their needs however they need us. For example, our foodservice distribution business went the extra mile to support our customers and those struggling across America by redeploying our tractor-trailers and equipment to transport surplus product across the U.S. to food banks nationwide. Also, since the onset of the outbreak in January, Golden State Foods has delivered thousands of masks, hand sanitizers, and personal protective equipment to our customers and associates around the world.

R&FF: What has GSF focused on recently regarding the pandemic?

Over the past few months, our focus has been keeping our associates safe and healthy. The rapid and widespread increase in coronavirus cases in recent months prompted our company to reiterate the importance of coronavirus prevention best practices, which are detailed in the guidance policy that we’ve continually updated since Q1, as the pandemic evolves. In fact, this summer GSF launched a new, mandatory all-associate training course on coronavirus prevention to provide everyone across our essential workforce with actionable knowledge to stay safe and healthy.

R&FF: As an organization, how have you made an impact through community outreach and assistance in 2020?

Our associates have taken quick action to support the communities where they live and work through the nonprofit GSF Foundation, which serves children and families in need. In fact, Foundation leaders have fast-tracked nearly $200,000 in food bank grants across the U.S. since the onset of this pandemic. Our Protein Products Team in Alabama supported its customer donations of multiple pallets of hamburger meat to local food banks, as well as gave 1,000 gowns to a nearby medical center that was in dire need of personal protective equipment. One of our corporate chefs and others prepared over 3,500 meals in our Chicago Innovation Center for families at local Ronald McDonald Houses and healthcare workers.

In June, GSF dairy products subsidiary KanPak fast-tracked initiative to package surplus milk and donate 137,280 eight-ounce bottles of shelf-stable, premium, whole milk to several U.S. food banks. Refusing to stand by while surplus food goes to waste and more people go hungry, KanPak drove remarkable speed-to-market in about a month’s time. This donation served as an extraordinary differentiator for food banks facing intense demand and scarce freezer capacity for perishable donations, as the nutrient-rich milk can feed food-insecure families immediately or up to nine months later.

R&FF: What will foodservice distribution look like in 2021, and what changes from 2020 will have a lasting effect?

We can certainly hope for a quick recovery, while accepting that it will take time for the world to fully return to business as usual. Guided by our GSF Creed and Values, we will continue doing business in the same, steadfast manner as we have done for nearly 75 years. This pandemic will not change our focus on treating others the way we want to be treated, giving the customer a fair deal, making the best product, and maintaining the highest standards. And by working together, we believe that we as a company, and as an industry, will emerge stronger than ever.

R&FF: Anything to add?

I just want to reiterate how proud I am of all our associates who consistently exemplified safe, healthy practices and adaptability during this time, throughout all of our 50+ facilities worldwide. They have modeled positive, productive behavior for each other and for other organizations, and I couldn’t be more pleased with them as they continue to effectively demonstrate our company’s Creed and Values.

(Click here for more COVID-19 coverage and how it is affecting the refrigerated and frozen foods industry.)