US Foods has earned our Foodservice Distributor of the Year Award not by going about its business as usual during perhaps the most un-usual time for foodservice in decades, but by transforming itself into a multi-faceted solutions source for its 300,000 clients to access anytime. The company’s longtime tagline is “We Help You Make It”, and that took on a whole new meaning in 2020.

From a bird’s-eye view, foodservice has traditionally been about delivering F&B—much of it coming through the cold chain—to high-volume venues like restaurants, hotels, schools, stadiums, and more. When I worked in the F&B purchasing department of a large hotel many years ago, the relationship with our foodservice distributor consisted mainly of phoning in our daily order (did I mention this was many years ago?) and the company’s sales reps coming around occasionally to show us new products.

If that’s all US Foods did in 2020, many of their customers would likely be out of business today, given the way coronavirus redrew the landscape of foodservice as we know it. Instead, the company assessed and acted quickly at every stage of the pandemic—from helping restaurateurs rapidly shift to a carry-out/delivery model, offering consultations on how to navigate the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to claim much-needed funds, and assisting them during the initial reopening phase after weeks of being shut down, by offering supplies and signage geared toward pandemic precautions.

For any business along the cold chain, US Foods can be a case study in providing value to customers beyond core services. Try asking prospective and current clients how you can better understand their niche of the industry and what short-term and long-term goals they have, and see what resources you can offer to help them get there.

Building relationships through value propositions can be a differentiator in securing new business and enabling repeat business, which should be the goal of any company. It’s probably safe to say US Foods secured future contracts with many of its foodservice clients last year through its actions, and it’s a lesson that in any competitive industry, offering real value beyond your core services can give you an advantage, but it requires stepping outside of a “business as usual” mindset, which US Foods did with measurable success last year.