Food & Agriculture


Bennan's conducts site visits ro every farm before carrying its products.

From the farm to the store – Wisconsin style

Consumers demanding to know more about their food choices now have the tools to do so, driving major changes in the food supply chain.

Food companies historically have had little communication with consumers, but given today’s environment, that is no longer the case, asserts Jeff Young, Bader Rudder president. His Milwaukee B2B marketing agency supports a host of national food-related clients such as AgroFresh and CSK Food Enrichment.

Meijer began purchasing potatoes from Alsum Farms & Produce in Friesland, Wis., nearly 4 years ago. They’re among more than 125 growers across the Midwest that participates in the Meijer locally-grown program. (Meijer)
Meijer began purchasing potatoes from Alsum Farms & Produce in Friesland, Wis., nearly 4 years ago. They’re among more than 125 growers across the Midwest that participates in the Meijer locally-grown program. (Meijer)

For Young, businesses within the food world are becoming increasingly transparent, ready to answer consumers’ questions.

“The way consumers look at food is changing. They see beyond the product on the grocery store shelf and are increasingly interested in how that product was made and what ingredients it contains,” Young says. He points out that at the same time, consumers demand more open and honest communication with businesses in general.

“Supply chain advances in technology can help create opportunities for food brands to have more data-driven and meaningful dialogues with consumers about their products,” Young asserts.

According to Whole Foods Market spokesperson Allison Phelps, the firm “embraces our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet, can flourish.”

Buying locally-grown products bolsters local economies and contributes to responsible land development and the preservation of viable green spaces, Phelps asserts. “Whole Foods Market is proud to carry over 1,000 Wisconsin-made products and source around 40 percent of our local produce from Wisconsin farms,” she says.

Bennan's conducts site visits ro every farm before carrying its products.
Bennan’s conducts site visits ro every farm before carrying its products.

Among its local suppliers are artisan cheesemakers Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin and Carr Valley Cheese Company, with others such as Sartori producing cheeses exclusively for Whole Foods Market. Other Wisconsin suppliers include Colectivo Coffee, Pasqual’s Tortilla Chips and Rushing Waters Fisheries.

Large and small Wisconsin grocery outlets are equally enthusiastic about utilizing state purveyors and are happy to tell consumers that “local is good.”

For the Madison-headquartered Brennan’s Markets, most vendors have been longtime partners. Company president Tim Culhane explains that the company “seeks growers who are leaders in their field and who stand above the ordinary, always looking to grow or produce a better product.” He acquires food products from about 50 Wisconsin vendors.

Brennan’s representatives make site visits to every farm operation before okaying its produce or meats. “This is a cornerstone of Brennan’s since it was founded in 1942,” says Culhane. For him, “kicking dirt’” with a farmer is key to getting the best product and finding out what new things they are experimenting with growing. Keeping track of inventory is done by physical counts and daily discussions with store personnel, with a combination of direct deliveries and pick-ups by Brennan’s fleet.

Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee is the largest natural food co-op retailer in Wisconsin in sales and fourth in the nation. It works with more than 30 local produce farmers, says Margaret Mittelstadt, Outpost’s community relations director.

Supplying local produce is not simple arithmetic, she explains. “That’s why it’s so important that our buyers develop real and lasting relationships with our local farmers. We can work with them in good times and in bad. We won’t abandon them if the product typically meets our policy requirements, but it may not look perfect that year,” Mittelstadt affirms. “That’s life on the farm!”

“We get to know each of our Wisconsin vendors individually, often working with them before their product is ready for market,” she says. This process helps bring them online in terms of labeling compliance and other requirements. To even be considered, all products first need to be in compliance with Outpost’s product policies.

Mittelstadt indicates that growers want to sell to Outpost because the member-driven cooperative has a reputation for being a good customer. “We can be selective as to who we buy from. We’re looking for the best quality, handling and on-farm sanitation,” she says.

As with any business, there are criteria to be met. Outpost vendors need to be capable of getting their product to market, with logistics in place to deliver affordable product efficiently and within its receiving hours. The company also looks for Wisconsin-made products that are affordable, have mass appeal and price accessibility – and no artificial ingredients.

“We review documentation for claims like fair trade certification, organic certification and commercial kitchen licenses,” says Mittelstadt.

Relatively new to the Wisconsin market, the Meijer grocery chain has a long-standing commitment to buying locally-grown produce when available as long as the quality meets its high standards, says Christina Fecher, the firm’s public relations manager.

“It’s what our customers want and deserve,” she adds.

Meijer uses its own trucks to pick up the produce from a central distribution center and deliver to its stores daily. By purchasing local from suppliers like Alsum Foods & Produce in Friesland, Wis., Meijer cuts fuel consumption, helps reduce transportation costs and keeps down prices, says Fecher.

She stresses that Meijer takes the subject of food safety seriously, holding each of its growers accountable for following all FDA food safety regulations and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), with voluntary audits verifying that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible. “Meijer buyers and brokers routinely visit many of the farms as an extra level of accountability.”

Closing the supply chain gap with technology

Robert Roese’s Next Step Technologies provides programming services to food distributors who use IBM iSeries systems. He can modify the client’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and provide an interface that passes data to and from server-based systems, as well as custom design applications.

Since the majority of wholesalers are traditionally privately-held, small companies without an internal programming staff, Roese stepped in early on to offer an independent solution for such business challenges.

In 1992, Roese signed his first client, Waukesha Wholesale Foods. He now supports clients in 16 states. Many belong to the UniPro group, the country’s largest food service cooperative. Headquartered in Atlanta with a sales office in Oshkosh, UniPro’s 900 distribution locations serve more than 800,000 customers, with member companies representing more than $60 billion in annual sales revenues. Among participating Wisconsin firms are Badger Wholesale in Green Bay, Madison’s Loffredo Food Products and Valley Bakers Cooperative Association in Greenville.

Next Step’s services range from project management and order processing through corporate payroll, accounts payable and sales analysis. Clients include hospitals, restaurant chains and related non-retail industries that have dealings in the food industry.

No posts to display