business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times this morning reports on how restaurant supply companies have embraced consumers as a new and growable market as their traditional customers continue to deal with pandemic-generated realities.

An excerpt:

"While the pandemic has changed myriad aspects of American life in ways we are still starting to see (will anyone ever go back to a desk job?), none may be as pervasive as the new ways we shop and eat. As grocery shopping became a minor tactical operation, home cooks began to think like the chef of a small restaurant that is booked every night.

"To stock refrigerators and cabinets with supplies for menus planned a week or more in advance, they have turned to many of the same businesses that restaurants used — from major regional wholesalers to family farms raising asparagus and a herd of goats. Many of these suppliers slapped together their retail operations overnight in March in a desperate attempt to survive the month. Now, as summer nears, these new trade routes may be here to stay.

"In San Francisco and Washington, D.C., fishmongers who once supplied only restaurants now send their trucks into residential neighborhoods. Midwestern farms that used to take chefs’ orders by phone sell their vegetables and cheeses in consumer-friendly quantities through online stores."

Of course, it isn't just restaurant suppliers.  It also is restaurants:

"Restaurants in every major city now offer not just delivery and takeout — minor lifelines for the industry — but also boxes of the ingredients used in their kitchens, sometimes with recipes or assembly instructions included. Chefs are boxing up their hummus and selling partly-assembled meals to be finished at home — all the supplies for beef barbacoa tacos; a clay pot of biryani sealed under a lid of dough that needs half an hour in the oven; cookies with decorating kits; meats that had been aged for expense account spenders, now for you."

The Eye-Opening point is this:  Just like supermarkets talk about being grocerants (with restaurant-type facilities inside their grocery stores), many restaurants and their suppliers now are thinking in broader terms about their mission and business models.  Think "restaurmarkets."    They are thinking more in terms of feeding people good food, and less in terms of atmosphere and bells and whistles.

I'd like to think that this will mean we'll all eat better.  But it also could have tremendous implications for traditional food retail, which will have to deal with new competitors coming that them from a different angle.