USDA taps food service suppliers

Four West Michigan firms will sell a combined $38.6M in products as part of program.
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One of the products Gordon Food Service will be supplying to the USDA is romaine lettuce. Courtesy Gordon Food Service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded contracts under the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to four West Michigan food suppliers to purchase and distribute produce, dairy and meat products to different food banks, communities and organizations. 

Gordon Food Service in Wyoming, Heeren LLC in Comstock Park, Van Eerden Foodservice in Grand Rapids and VanSolkema Produce of GA LLC in Byron Center are among numerous food suppliers around the country that have won USDA bids and will have up to $3 billion of their food items purchased.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, about $2.3 million worth of dairy products and $3.3 million worth of fruits and vegetable will be purchased from Gordon Food Service. 

We were pleased to participate in the USDA’s program, which provides nutritional food to a growing number of people facing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, while also creating much needed revenue for farmers and processors who are challenged to get their product to market during these crisis conditions,” said Mark Schurman, manager and corporate communications for Gordon Food Service. “Because of our experience, including establishing complex supply chains, our existing distribution infrastructure, and familiarity with government procurement, we were able to assemble a winning bid for the first phase of the program, May 15-June 30. We’re excited to support a worthy program and glad to be able to bring that work to our own teams and our supplier partners.”

A little over $28 million worth of fruits and vegetables will be purchased by the USDA from Heeren.

The USDA will purchase approximately $3.2 million worth of fruits and vegetables, $1.7 million worth of dairy products and $19,500 worth of pre-cooked meals that include pork and chicken from Van Eerden Foodservice.

VanSolkema Produce of GA will have $150,000 worth of its fruits and vegetables purchased by the USDA.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the foodservice industry with the closing of restaurant dining rooms and other public venues,” Schurman said. “While many restaurants have continued to offer delivery and curbside, for most the pandemic has had a dramatic negative impact on their revenues. Because restaurateurs are a major customer segment of Gordon Food Service, the crisis has had a proportionate impact on us since mid-March. In response, the company eliminated nonessential program spending, postponed capital projects and generally reduced expenses wherever practical. Unfortunately, despite these and other efforts, we were compelled to furlough a significant number of people to align our workforce with business demands.”

Prior to the pandemic, Schurman said Gordon had about 20,000 employees working throughout the United States and Canada in different aspects of the company, including warehousing and transportation.

Although restaurants and schools have closed, halting those food outlets, Schurman said Gordon has seen growth in the demand for food products in the health care industry. There also is increasing demand in the company’s 170 consumer stores.

The company works with farmers, packers and manufacturers for processed food items, among others. One of the businesses Gordon Food Service partners with is Bolthouse Brothers Growers near Marne in Ottawa County.

Bolthouse Brothers Growers farms on 800 acres of land, growing corn, cabbage, green peppers, collard greens, kale, and six varieties of fall squash and cantaloupe.

Another farm Gordon Food Service partners with is Bolthouse Farms, which is a vegetable supplier, primarily of carrots. Bolthouse Farms was originally headquartered in Grant, but it has since moved to California. The business supplies fruit and vegetable juices, beverages, protein milk, salad dressing and carrots.

“The USDA vegetable box program allows Bolthouse Farms to find a home for the carrots that would normally go to our food service business,” said Kevin Fix, VP of sales and customer management for Bolthouse Farms. “Our food service business has seen a 50% decrease in volume over the past two months, leaving us long in the fields on baby peeled carrots. This program couldn’t have come at a better time and we’re committed to servicing as much volume as possible to feed families across the U.S.”

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