Max Posner / NPR
Thai food and toilet paper. Fish and chips and flour. A bistro box… of local products.
With the closure of their dining rooms, an increasing number of restaurants are entering the grocery store, a source of liquidity essential in this crisis.
For customers, this is an opportunity to grab a few necessities without having to brave a crowded store (or fight for a coveted grocery delivery niche.) And while your local supermarket may be running out of flour , local restaurants probably have a lot.
In fact, in many cases, different supply chains supply food to restaurants than to grocery stores.
“There are players who only sell food for restaurants – which means they have big bags of food, they don’t have a brand,” says JP Frossard, consumer food analyst at Rabobank . “The distribution is different. The type of product may be different. “
Take flour, a hot item, while the people who take shelter at home take baking plans. Grocery stores sell a lot of 5-pound bags of flour and are struggling to keep the shelves full at this time. Meanwhile, restaurants and bakeries have easy access to flour – it’s just in 50-pound bags.
In this pandemic, people eat less in restaurants and order more in grocery stores. But it can be difficult to rotate the food supply accordingly – you can’t just put a 50-pound bag of flour on a grocery shelf. (A restaurant, on the other hand, can be flexible and fill a Ziploc bag for customers.)
And it’s not just dry packaged products. Products for restaurants must now find new buyers, which is difficult to do quickly and in large quantities. As a result, food is left to rot in the fields.
Restaurants are trying a new answer. Too many tomatoes? Add them to the online ordering system.
Sysco, one of the country’s largest restaurant suppliers, offers advice and support to restaurants wishing to start selling groceries. “Sysco has many stocks and products to help your customers meet the demands and needs that are missing from their local grocery stores,” the company wrote, noting the importance of social distance behind the scenes at these pop-up stores.
Pivoting to meet this new need is a real public service, says Frossard. It is also a boost to Sysco’s bottom line and a source of revenue for restaurants.
But he’s not a huge money maker, he notes; certainly not enough to replace the business restaurants that are losing right now.
“This is one way to help us stay afloat,” said Jennifer Dobbertin, owner of Tenko Ramen in San Antonio, Texas. “It’s an extremely difficult time for restaurants. “
The ramen shop has started adding groceries to the menu. Dobbertin doesn’t have a ton of inventory space, so it’s a challenge to figure out what they can sell, but she says she’s having fun with it. “One of my dream jobs is being a buyer for a grocery store,” she said.
Scroll through the ramen on its online menu and you will find milk with this description: “social distance is absolutely necessary. Gala apples: “The only gala you will be going to soon. “Cabbage:” Are you already desperate enough to buy a head of cabbage? (Dobbertin really likes cabbage, but she says she is aware that she is a minority there.)
Other restaurants prepare boxes of products for pickup at specific times or invite customers to call and see what types of dry goods and products might be available.
Here in Washington, D.C., a reporter recently bought fish and chips at a British pub called Alibi, with a side of flour, baking soda, and a bottle of bourbon. And a visual reporter placed a delivery order from Julii, in Bethesda, Md., For a chicken sandwich and paper napkins.
And the trend has gone from mom-pop stores to at least one big chain. Panera Bread now offers vegetables and milk alongside its pastries.