An inside look at foodservice at Sysco

A cold and rainy spring day did not stop twenty SFPFS members from traveling to Fremont to visit Sysco’s Northern California headquarters. Sysco graciously opened its doors to provide an opportunity for members to expand their knowledge of commercial foodservice, and what better way to explore this industry than to hear from one of the global leaders.

To provide a recap, Sysco is an American corporation involved in marketing and distributing food products, smallwares, kitchen equipment and tabletop items to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, and other hospitality businesses. The Fremont facilities service customers from Big Sur to Fort Bragg.

After a Q&A session with the facility manager and staff, we suited up in special coats, hats and gloves, and began our tour of Newport Meats, Sysco’s meat processing facility. Originally founded in the LA area, Newport Meats was purchased by Sysco in the late 1990’s. The facility houses an integrated dock for receiving and shipping products, computer enhanced refrigeration controls, separate rooms dedicated to cutting fresh meats and fish, and a meat aging room. Over the course of a single day, over 5,000 pounds of fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, halibut, sole, wahoo, and mahi-mahi) and 12,000 pounds of meat (beef, lamb, and pork) are cut into portions according to customer specifications, and then wrapped and shipped. Sanitation is key in this work environment: it takes over five hours to clean the space before the work starts again the next day. Poultry is portioned elsewhere due to specific sanitation requirements.

During the tour, we learned that business has shifted mostly to providing pre-portioned meat and fish versus the entire animal. Many hospitality companies are unable to hire enough staff to handle their own, internal butchering needs so it has been more economical to purchase steaks, chops and filets already cut to specification. Additionally, we learned that although Sysco would like to source more locally raised meats, the ranches in California are not large enough to support their business needs. Instead, Sysco sources meat from as far away as the Midwest. Fish is sourced mainly from the West Coast, as far north as Washington and as far south as Mexico, and also from Hawaii.

Following the tour of Newport Meats, we were treated to a decadent buffet lunch featuring Sysco’s products, prepared by Head Chef Jay Marshall (who recently joined SFPFS!). The menu included a salumi and cheese platter, beet salad, Manhattan Steaks (i.e., small NY Strips), airline grilled chicken, Beyond Meat™ burgers, and an array of desserts.

After lunch, we received a tour of the company’s massive 500,000+ square foot warehouse. Here, as forklifts whizzed by us, we learned about Sysco’s inventory control system, how packing slips are used, and that cleanliness is key. We traveled through the refrigerated produce area and saw company inspectors checking produce boxes for freshness and then ended the tour in the freezer room among boxes of ice cream and other desserts.

Thank you to Sysco for a great day, filled with information, delicious food, and great company.