St. Louis food wholesalers now selling direct to general public

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to transform the way the local grocery industry does business, longtime St. Louis grocery wholesalers are getting creative with how to reach consumers.

Companies like Kern Meat Company, Ole Tyme Produce, Kuna Foodservice and Sunfarm do without the middleman and sell directly to consumers. Kern Meat, which has been supplying local grocery businesses for 72 years, offers roadside pickup from its Cherokee Street facility. Customers can place orders through a Shopify page.

According to Matt Sherman, general manager at Kern, the program was initiated after the company received calls from friends, neighbors, and customers asking if they would sell direct to the customer. In addition, Kern recently began distributing “retail packages” to country club customers for sale directly to their members.

Also at the core is the local distributor for Brewer’s Crafted Pork (beer-inspired pork products that use regenerative farming methods), an idea spearheaded by local chef Vito Racanelli.

Like other protein wholesalers, Kern is a USDA approved facility that must adhere to strict standards. However, Sherman said that as soon as he saw what was developing in Seattle, he put in place additional measures that were “extreme but necessary” long before the virus became a problem here. In extreme situations, USDA regulations allow inspected companies to monitor the health and hygiene of their employees (e.g. washing hands and monitoring body temperature). According to Sherman, Kern also cleans all contact points every 30 minutes. He admits that this is “a pain we’ve all gotten used to”.

Ole Tyme Produce, which has been selling groceries in St. Louis for nearly 50 years, launched a direct-to-consumer website that allows customers to place orders for roadside pickup at its St. Charles facility. Customers call the company to set a pickup time, which is available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Eat Here Saint Louis, a wholesaler sourcing from local farmers and producers within a 150-mile radius, is also represented. The company recently partnered with Tower Grove Farmers’ Market to deliver fresh produce, local meat and other artisanal goods to customer homes.

Deliveries began two weeks ago and are expected to increase as the growing season progresses. Customers can place an order using the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market online order form. The products are then placed on the doorstep. “We hope this approach protects both you and our employees,” said Eat Here Saint Louis in an Instagram post.

John Pollaci, President of Sunfarm, recalls a phone call to his web designer on March 15th, the day restaurant orders went down. Faced with the difficulties of the restaurants and the temporary closure of some restaurants, Pollaci decided to move directly to the consumer and become “a one-stop online shop”, not only for the Sunfarm product line (products and dairy products), but also for popular staples like eggs and toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing detergent and even freshly baked bread from Fazio’s Bakery. Joint orders can be placed here for collection the next morning. Grocery orders can also be delivered to St. Louis City and County.

Kuna Foodservice, based in Dupo, Illinois, serves the St. Louis area and takes a different approach. The grocery company sells protein boxes of items like Angus Ribeye Steak, Pork Chop, and Fajita Chicken Breast. Produce boxes of items like giant yellow onions, carrots, and potatoes. and from today milk crates to local restaurants which can then be sold to consumers.

For example, Super Smokers’ BBQ, a Kuna customer, stocks protein boxes that are available to customers through online ordering. Another customer, Robust Wine Bar, also stocks steak boxes for roadside pickup.

“Many restaurants have been our customers for more than 40 years,” says Rose Woodward, Marketing Director at Kuna. “They are like family to us. We wanted to have a creative idea to support them and be a good partner during this time.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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