Freshway Foods has a simple saying when it comes to the number of products and services it provides. “At Freshway Foods, we offer everything you need from A to Z,” says Devon Beer, president and COO of Freshway. “Or, another way to put it, apples to zucchini.”
Freshway — still based in Sidney, OH, where it was started by brothers Phil and Frank Gilardi in 1988 — covers retailers and foodservice providers in the eastern half of the United States as a fresh fruit and vegetable processor, repacker and distributor. The company says that its success has been a result of how it prides itself on its expansive product offerings and services.
Freshway had been owned by the Gilardi family since its inception, and it wasn’t a traipse into unfamiliar family for Phil and Frank. Members of the Gilardi family, after emigrating from Italy, had begun selling produce in Sidney and the surrounding area in the last few years of the 19th century. Years later, the family started a successful pizza restaurant and then developed a line of frozen pizza products. The pizza business separated from the produce business in the 1970s before Phil and Frank began Freshway in the 80s.
And things stayed that way until an opportunity presented itself earlier this year. It was announced on May 19 that US Foods had agreed to acquire Freshway. It was a chance for the company to take its next step and begin a relationship with an even larger operation.
“US Foods’ success has been built upon a commitment to the company’s associates and customers, and we are looking forward to the next chapter for Freshway as part of a well-established and reputable company like US Foods,” Beer says. “US Foods hopes to expand capability here so there will possibly be more growth to come in the future.”
Beer says it was Freshway’s hard work in building a superb reputation in a thriving and competitive industry that made the company a prime target for US Foods.
“Freshway products have a great name in the produce industry,” he says. “They are synonymous with quality and innovation. Acquiring Freshway Foods gave US Foods the capability to process fresh produce, which is the fastest growing business in the food industry.”
Size and ability
Freshway has carved out its spot in the industry by being big and flexible, a sometimes challenging combination.
“Freshway is large enough to offer a broad variety of products and services, yet we are nimble enough to react to the changing demands of our customers and the marketplace,” Beer says. “In the fresh produce industry, market conditions are always changing, and you have to be nimble to be competitive.”
Part of that means being able to introduce new and relevant products when the market shows a demand. As an example, Freshway introduced its new baby kale blend at the PMA Foodservice Expo in July. The new blend is mild in flavor and more tender than traditional kale, according to Beer. It offers the health benefits of kale to those consumers who are intimidated by the texture of traditional chopped kale. By offering it washed, ready-to-serve, and packed in one-pound bags, Freshway presents a viable choice for in-store salad bars or back-of-house salad preparation.
“Consumers expect more upscale ingredients in salad bars,” Beer says. “This new blend has great color and texture, and will be the star of any salad bar program.”
But studying trends and responding with timely products only goes so far. Beer points out the importance of consistency. Consumers can be unforgiving when it comes to salads and fresh-cut products, and Freshway has the added pressure of maintaining that desired quality throughout different types of retailers and foodservice providers.
“We work with very exacting customer specifications, and we understand the need to give consumers a consistent experience, no matter where they shop or eat on a given day,” he says. “Supermarkets benefit from the consistent costs and quality of our fresh salad kids and salad bar components.”
A huge part of building consistency, according to the company, is through strong and varied supply chain logistics. Freshway offers on-time refrigerated transportation and logistics services to customers as well as LTL and truckload service.
This enables Freshway to simplify distribution for its customers, not only being able to deliver Freshway products to their distribution centers, but also using its forward distribution program to consolidate shipments from multiple suppliers onto one Freshway truck.
“Our ability to ship full truckloads and LTL enables us to provide guaranteed cold-chain distribution to all of our customers, regardless of volume,” Beer says. “We have extensive experience transporting fresh produce and other perishables, and we have systems in place to ensure every load is handled the right way, every time. When you use Freshway as your distribution provider, you are benefiting from 28 years of experience handling perishable, time-sensitive products.”
In addition to its selection of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, Freshway offers repack services for customers who need whole produce but don’t have the volume to justify bulk produce quantities. “We also have a robust forward distribution program, which enables our customers to simplify their perishable distribution by bringing all of their perishable products in on one Freshway truck,” Beer says.
Freshway operates a fleet of more than 50 fuel-efficient trucks. That fleet is powered by what the company says is an experienced and thriving pool of drivers, a rare feat in today’s climate of professional drivers.
“With the current driver shortage, many carriers are struggling to hire enough drivers,” Beer says. “We are very fortunate to have a team of experienced drivers, many of whom have driven over 250,000 miles with Freshway. As we grow, we focus on recruiting drivers who are committed to road safety and who want to work for a company where their contribution is appreciated and rewarded.”
That means recognition and appreciation are vital for the company. Length of service is highlighted and quarterly recognition celebrations for all associates, including drivers, who achieve five-year milestones are held. The company created a prestigious Million Mile Club as a goal for drivers and also holds an annual logistics picnic for drivers and their families.
Freshway says its focus for the immediate future consists of developing products that save supermarkets and c-stores time and money. This includes efforts like behind-the-glass deli salad kits. The kits contain all needed the ingredients for a complete salad, allowing deli workers to simply mix them together with no additional cleaning or cutting to make a complete, ready-to-eat salad.
The company says its grab-and-go salads are also seeing success as quick and healthy options. Freshway has introduced several new salad bar products recently as well, including matchstick watermelon radish, matchstick golden beets and a yellow squash and zucchini half-moon combination.
“Our product development efforts are focused on creating seasonal and trending items that will keep consumers coming back,” Beer says. “For example, our fall/winter line of behind-the-glass deli salad kits features trending ingredients like plant-based protein and heirloom vegetables, as well as flavor profiles like sweet and spicy that appeal to millennial shoppers.”