As their restaurant clientele are mainly idle during the coronavirus pandemic, distributors that sell products such as produce, meat, and seafood are shifting their focus to retail customers.
A half-dozen companies are keeping their trucks rolling through the region. But instead of stopping at a restaurant to unload a thousand dollars’ worth of fresh meats and vegetables at a time, they pull up to a home and apartment with much smaller orders — some as low as $70 with no delivery fee.
The distributors have turned themselves, in effect, into a club store like Costco that offers home delivery. “This changes the middleman, for sure,” said Steve DeLorean, a chef and sales representative at Ashley Foods, in North Philadelphia.
“This is chef-grade food,” said Jim Sorkin, whose family owns Julius Silvert Inc., a fourth-generation distributor in North Philadelphia that, in better days, serves virtually every high-end restaurant in the city with not only meats, produce, and other perishables but also dry goods and staples. “I’m just trying to make it through and keep my employees working.” He said he was forced to lay off 80% of his 150 employees.
The pivot to retail involves more than changing delivery routes and delivering smaller, less-profitable orders. The distributors’ in-house butchers are not sending out whole sides of beef; instead, they are cutting proteins into household-ready portions. Where their restaurant customers must submit credit applications and are allowed to pay their bills within 15 or 30 days, these new retail customers must pay in advance. Distributors’ inventory lists typically are not neatly displayed on websites, sending customers to social media such as Instagram and Facebook, at least in these early days of the crisis.
On Facebook, Julius Silvert advertised two premade boxes of staples. The $70 version, which meets the $70 minimum for next-day delivery to most of the region on weekdays, includes 5 pounds of frozen chicken tenders, three 1-pound packs of spaghetti, a 5-kilogram bag of Valencia rice, 1½ pounds of sliced yellow Cheddar, a 2½-pound bag of frozen peas, 2 pounds of Idaho potatoes, 1 pound of butter, 1 roll of paper towels, 5 rolls of toilet paper, and a canister of sanitizing wipes. There is a “premium” box for $100 that starts with six 8-ounce burger patties. A note explains that Silvert carries other merchandise, but a formal list was not offered Monday. Sorkin said he was working on that. (215-866-0153; email@example.com)
Ashley Foods, which buys from many small farmers and butchers and sells to high-end restaurants, is now keeping busy with packages offered on Facebook that start at $99, delivered to the Philadelphia area and Jersey Shore (that’s 14 six-ounce chicken breasts, 3 pounds of boneless/skinless chicken thighs, two whole chickens, 3 pounds beef stew cubes, 3 pounds ground beef, 3 pounds bacon, and four 6-ounce boneless pork chops). Other items are also listed. (215-426-4103; via Facebook).
Baldor Specialty Foods, based in Bronx, N.Y., started free home delivery of assorted foods to consumers within a 15-mile radius of Boston and Philadelphia, expanding upon its 50-mile zone around New York City. The $250 minimum is much steeper than the others.
FarmArt in Folcroft, Delaware County, seems to be the most nimble in terms of getting its web ordering system running. The produce specialist has turned into a broad-line distributor, selling all sorts of grocery items via pickup as well as home-delivery to a swath of the region, from Center City Philadelphia into Fishtown and into the western suburbs from Wayne south to Ridley Park. Orders over $85 ship for free, and there’s a 10 p.m. deadline for next-day delivery. (215-336-1466; www.farmartproduce.com). Updated 4/4/20: Minimum order for free shipping is now $85.
Giordano Garden Groceries is offering $35 boxes of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and nuts for delivery as well as for pickup at its South Philadelphia location and at pickup points, such as Keg & Kitchen in Westmont and Taqueria Feliz in Manayunk (215-389-6500; firstname.lastname@example.org; or giordano.garden.groceries on Instagram).
Green Meadow Farm in Gap, Pa., whose produce is used by some of the top restaurants in the area, has taken to Instagram to sell farm-share boxes ($30 for a single, $55 for a double, plus a $25 dairy box and $40 meat box) that are available for pickup at Sidecar Bar & Grille and Stockyard Sandwich Co. in Philadelphia and at Slow Hand in West Chester, as well as at the farm. (717-442-5222; email@example.com).
Larry Inver Wholesale Foods in Northern Liberties has opened for retail pickup and limited delivery, offering a variety of poultry, meats, cheeses, nuts by the pound, and a few cleaning supplies; the list is on Facebook. (609-405-1057, text or phone).
Primal Supply in South Philadelphia and Brewerytown, which has a retail presence but is known mostly for wholesale meats sold to restaurants, has gone to home delivery with meats and groceries in certain Philadelphia areas ($50 minimum; $15 flat-rate fee) and to pickups at both locations ($20 minimum order); orders must be placed by 4 p.m. for next-day home delivery or pickup, Tuesday to Saturday. Primal’s web store lists product categories, and Instagram carries updates. (215-595-2228).