June 11, 2012

Kosher Food Service Takes Advantage of Growing Options

NEW YORK -- A veteran nursing home administrator with a kosher kitchen admits that he has changed the way he buys kosher food. “I used to rely on one or two distributors for everything, but now I even buy baked foods from a nearby supermarket with a kosher bakery.” He listed Costco, Whole Foods and Fairway as stores he has bought from, “sometimes at a significant savings.” 

In interviews with a number of distributors that specialize in food service as well as institutional food buyers, it was apparent that there were some significant nuances of kosher foodservice that are quite different from retail, including product mix, collections, and always squeezing purveyors on price. Overall, the industry sources guessed that kosher foodservice sales grew by 15% - 20% since 2005. They attributed it to the expansion of kosher programs in health care, independent living, on-campus dining, catering, restaurants and education. 

Many distributors that specialize in retail also have a significant foodservice portfolio, often carrying special industrial sizes to accommodate their institutional customers. Distributors like Bertram Foods, based in Linden NJ, have greatly expanded into produce and even papers goods and janitorial supplies, making them a “one-stop” source for many foodservice clients (that is with the exception of meat and poultry). With the approaching summer camping season, trucks from Quality Foods will be headed to Upstate New York to stock camp pantries. They will also supply many of the small grocery stores in bungalow colonies and condo and coop developments. 

One foodservice buyer used a plethora of suppliers ranging from West Side Kosher Foods to a local Shoprite. Doing business with government funded programs, such as nursing homes, can be tricky as reimbursement can often take three months or more, often putting a crimp into cash flow. Several of the foodservice people we spoke to also alluded to the changing product mix of their purchases.  

The availability of gluten-free products has made a big difference for one health care facility but it is also ordering sushi of late. If there was one theme that seemed to cross all segments of foodservice it was the broad choices that were available.