The supplier connection: Dairy

Dairy experts talk about recent issues affecting foodservice purchasing.

A shift in milk production from the Midwest to the West, coupled with rising fuel costs, is hampering distribution, says Garrett Lowney, director of sales and marketing for the Independent Procurement Alliance Program. "This problem gets passed down in the form of a higher cost to the end user," he adds. Distributors and operators must monitor processes to drive inefficiencies out of the supply chain.

Supplier consolidation is swallowing up smaller companies. This is shifting power up the supply chain from buyers to producers, Lowney explains. To counteract this, he advises distributors and restaurants to work together to more accurately forecast orders, consolidate purchases and adjust order cycles.

Specialty distributors are growing. While broadliners still handle the bulk of dairy commodities, smaller distributors are dealing with specialty, local or small-production products. Not only do these distributors sell unique ingredients, "they can come in the back door four to five days a week, offering operators a better schedule for freshness," says Kevin Marckus, sales manager for FreshPoint A-One-A.

Exclusive deals are a more frequent way to do business. FreshPoint, for example, offers an Around the Rind program in which a specialty cheese is featured weekly.

Customization is growing. Operators can work directly with a manufacturer or distributor to create proprietary products. "If a restaurant is looking for a specific flavor profile, melting property or other function in a cheese, we work out a solution," says Elizabeth Bowes, marketing manager for Sartori Foods in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Past custom products include a citrus-infused Tesore cheese and crumbled cheeses with a hand-crafted, artisanal look.