(Photo:Rudy Ciotti, SYSCO, speaking at the 2014 Beef Industry Convention)
In spite of declining beef consumption numbers, when most Canadians dine out, they’re still likely to order a great steak. That’s why increasing beef consumption is a big part of the business for SYSCO, North America’s leading food service provider.
The company sells close to 20 million pounds of Canadian beef to its customers, making the company the third largest buyer of beef in Canada.
And with more people interested in eating locally-produced food, it was a natural fit for the $40-billion company to team up with the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program.
“I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are in the food service industry to have a great new partnership with Ontario Corn Fed Beef,” said Rudy Ciotti, Vice President of category management and sourcing for SYSCO Canada.
Ciotti talked about his company and the recent agreement with OCFB at the annual Beef Industry Convention. Defining food service as eating away from home, Ciotti said that food service represents approximately 38% of the food dollar in Canada.
While admitting his company’s mission statement may be similar to its competition, Ciotti was adamant that SYSCO is all about delivering great products.
“So you can see the obvious connection here with what were trying to do with the product we’re talking about in the room here today,” said Ciotti, referring to Ontario Corn Fed Beef. “And ultimately, the way we do that is we partner with our customers.”
SYSCO’s sales team includes 1,000 people across Canada, with 250 in Ontario. “So getting this fantastic product on the menu is our goal for the foreseeable future,” added Ciotti.
In addition to selling to the more familiar restaurant chains in Ontario, the company also deals with thousands of independent restaurateurs across Canada, which Ciotti called the “lifeblood” of the food service industry.
“Those are the people we work with, day-in and day-out, to get beef on the menu,” said Ciotti. “So you may not be eating beef at home as much as you used to do but chances are if you’re going out…special occasions or whatever… you’re probably going to have a great-tasting steak.”
A critical part of the job of managing a category involves paying close attention to food service trends.
Noting the success of OCFB with Loblaw and consumers’ interest in an Ontario product, Ciotti said SYSCO sought to develop a similar strategy to increase Ontario beef consumption in the food service sector.
LonnieLake, National Procurement Manager, who also spoke at the Convention, said the top food trend for 2014 is locally-sourced meats and seafood.
With that in mind, SYSCO has built a category plan around that trend to ensure “local” is going to be in all of its markets.
“We came up with a strategy to offer our customers a regionally branded program in each province that is consistent and better than commodity beef,” said Lake.
“We want to partner with successful provincial brand leaders and locally grown products that establish equity in their brands.”
Given the successful track record of the farmer-owned brand, Lake said SYSCO officials called the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association to have OCFB anchor this beef strategy in Ontario.
But in order to make that happen, the company needs Ontario farmers to step up to meet the demand.
“We need you to continue to follow the current blueprint to deliver from gate-to-plate and to ensure top quality beef that is consistent week to week,” said Lake of SYSCO’s plans for the years ahead.
“We need continued support from Ontario producers to further grow the brand and we need to continue to market the brand and build loyalty to a premium brand logo and name.”