The Thyme is NOW — Tech and the Food Supply Chain

Insights and observations from Pepper’s work at the intersection of food distribution and technology

Bowie Cheung
Nov 30, 2021 · 5 min read
Over 25,000 food distributors keep the shelves stocked at restaurants and grocery stores in N. America

In the last 5 years, retail food consumers have experienced more change than in the last 50. The emergence of the “food tech” space has led to exciting innovations in areas like 3rd party delivery, e.g., UberEats, Instacart, Imperfect Foods; restaurant operating systems, e.g., Toast and Olo; or virtual restaurants, e.g., Cloud Kitchens and Nextbite. But what hasn’t experienced the same degree of innovation is how food makes its way to the restaurant or grocery store in the first place. That’s what Pepper is most interested in: technology for the food supply chain.

Pepper’s mission is to modernize the food supply chain. Our clients are food distributors that operate within it. They procure, process, package, store, and deliver food to restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, and convenience stores across the country. Collectively, they represent tens of thousands of businesses, and millions of workers. Our technology helps food distributors reach their full potential by growing sales, saving time and lowering expenses.

Our core product is Pepper’s eCommerce platform for food distributors — a full service online ordering catalogue and payment system. It’s already generating transformational results for our partners. On average, our clients see 14% sales growth and 77% reduction in order entry time post adoption, and we’re just getting started.

We’re a diverse team that’s spent our careers at the intersection of technology and foodservice. We’ve built and run operations at organizations like Uber Eats, Smashburger, and Samuels & Son Seafood, and we’re proud to represent a melting pot of experiences from many different sides of the food industry. That breadth and depth of experience has enabled us to form meaningful relationships with our partners and tailor make a product that addresses their needs.

At Pepper, our work —

  1. Generates significant, immediate real world value for our customers
  2. Addresses important societal challenges, like sustainability and food waste
  3. Requires solving interesting and unique technical problems
  4. Fosters a truly unique team experience

In this blog series, we will share our perspectives on each of the above areas. We’ll start with the first point, the driving force that powers Pepper — generating real impact for our customers.

Who are our customers?

We partner with food distributors of all sizes.

Annual revenue for Pepper food distributor clients

And food supply categories.

Percent of Pepper clients by food supply category

Pepper’s platform benefits clients of all sizes and categories. We’ve yet to partner with a distributor that isn’t thinking proactively about how to expand business with their existing clients, attract new ones, and streamline operations. But just as no two suppliers are exactly alike, they achieve their goals in different ways.

Here are a few examples of the impact Pepper has generated for our clients.

Fueling customer growth

One of our first clients was 495 Express Foods, a local broadline distributor from Long Island, New York. One of the most frustrating challenges the company faced was keeping up with staffing in the back office. In their business, more than 80% of orders were placed via voicemail, which is typical in the food distribution industry. Trained customer service agents listened to voicemails and manually generated packing slips on a nightly basis. It was a mentally and physically demanding role. Hitting staffing targets for customer service agents had always been difficult, but proved near impossible over the past year due to covid-related market turbulence.

Pepper was initially launched to help address this exact issue. Initial setup and ERP integration for the distributor took three weeks, after which the first customers were brought online. By the two-month mark, the order entry workload per customer was reduced by 70%, which freed up capacity to bring on new business and be a better partner for existing customers. Soon after that, we got a phone call from Peter, the company President. He was ecstatic that, with the energy his company was able to now devote to business growth and their new eCommerce platform, they had devised an in-app promotion strategy that was generating >30% growth on many of their key accounts.

Our product designers are on the phone with Peter on a regular basis, getting important feedback on how we can continue to improve the platform and generate new revenue for his business. It’s exactly the kind of relationship we deeply value.

Solving unique challenges

Another amazing Pepper client we love working with is Henry’s Foods, a Midwest based broadline distributor and an important cornerstone in their community. Their sales leaders, Josh and Mary, tapped Pepper to help them modernize their ordering workflow for restaurants and convenience stores.

With thousands of stores in their network, they needed a partner that could develop a seamless integration with their inventory and price lists in their pre-existing ERP system. That’s not easy with a homegrown ERP system that contained over 50,000 SKUs and dozens of nuanced pricing rules.

In collaboration with Josh and Mary, Pepper refactored our data model to be able to load the entire catalog with buyer-specific pricing on a mobile device in seconds. It’s given their buyers access to the smoothest ordering experience, often replacing clunky, expensive handheld scanning devices that they used to use for ordering, saving tens of thousands of dollars in replacement costs.

The investments we made in our data model to accommodate Henry’s 50,000 SKU catalog made Pepper a better platform. Today, it’s common for Pepper to power eCommerce for catalogs that are even significantly larger than that.

Building together

We refer to our food distribution customers as partners because we’re building the platform in partnership with them. There are so many more examples of the Pepper team working long hours onsite with our clients, finding ways to capture new revenue opportunities or efficiencies today and in the future.

We’re big believers in the idea that if you want to go far, go together. Building together with our clients and seeing the immediate results to their bottom lines and day-to-day experience is hugely rewarding, and we’re honored to serve them and contribute to a more connected, sustainable food system.

Bowie is co-founder and CEO of Pepper, the eCommerce platform for food distributors. Our clients across the US, Canada, and Mexico use Pepper to power their eCommerce experience for thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores.

Are you a food distributor that’s interested in growing revenues and streamlining operations with the latest eCommerce technology? Or just someone who’s passionate about making a difference in the food supply chain?

For more information visit www.usepepper.com.

Dash of Pepper

Insights and observations from Pepper’s work at the intersection of food distribution and technology

Dash of Pepper

Pepper is the eCommerce platform for food distributors. Our clients across the US, Canada, and Mexico use Pepper to power their eCommerce experience for thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores. For more information visit www.usepepper.com.

Bowie Cheung

Written by

Dash of Pepper

Pepper is the eCommerce platform for food distributors. Our clients across the US, Canada, and Mexico use Pepper to power their eCommerce experience for thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores. For more information visit www.usepepper.com.