McLane Co.: ‘Headed in a Good Direction’

Eight months into his tenure as president of McLane Grocery at the largest grocery distributor to the convenience-store industry—and three years into the pandemic—Chris Smith is pleased with the focus of the company.

“Things are headed in a good direction,” he told CSP Daily News in an exclusive interview at the McLane Co. National Trade Show in Orlando, Fla., noting improvements in staffing, driver retention, customer experience and out-of-stocks. “It’s not back to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s much improved.”

It was precisely these issues that opened Smith to the idea of leaving his position in retailing—He previously was chief supply chain officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance—to bring his experience in grocery wholesale to the convenience channel.

“McLane was one of our partners at Walgreens, … and I saw the supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic firsthand,” he said. “I understood all of the factors that, frankly, were out of the distributor hands. I mean, it was a manpower issue, but manufacturers had those issues, as well. They also had problems getting ingredients, parts, packaging. … It went all the way up the supply chain, and it still does today.”

The concern was echoed on the trade-show floor, where several exhibitors said they’ve used the past couple of years to focus on core products rather than invest in research and development.

“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve really focused on distribution,” said Steve Dutton, national accounts manager for Johnsonville. “Luckily, we have had zero issues through the entire pandemic.”

McLane expected to showcase more than 170 exhibitors and host 1000 attendees during this year’s event, its first in-person trade show since 2019.

“This is positive for the industry. It’s exciting to see vendors back in here and promoting their products,” Smith said on day two of the trade show, “and the sales I’ve seen [here] have been encouraging.”

For its part, McLane unveiled new customer technology and a new foodservice offer, and, for the first time, brought together all of it’s foodservice programs in a single setting to demonstrate the full extent of its offer.

Tech Investment

In technology, McLane highlighted updates to the company’s Virtual Trade Show (VTS) mobile ordering application. Brad Lyons, McLane’s vice president of application development customer technology, said the app features a new look and feel with enhanced functionality.

“We launched the app this year,” he told CSP Daily News. “It’s built around the user experience to give the customer what they need now.”

McLane partnered with one of its strategic supplier partners to create the ability to set up staggered bundles on VTS, which allows users the flexibility to place orders for multiple stores with varied ship dates at one time.

McLane also highlighted its enhanced Delivery Tracker app, which now features multi-carrier SIM cards in devices to strengthen and broaden coverage and a new geolocation capability that, when merged with existing fleet management technology, provides more accurate tracking and delivery data to retailers, the company said.

While previous editions of the app reported when deliveries were made, the new version allows the customer to follow the entire fulfillment process: order received, order being picked, truck on the road, estimated time of arrival, truck on lot and so on.

“Now, customers are getting information directly from the driver,” Lyons said.

“We’re really doubling down on technology,” he added. “We’re growing our [technology] team. And manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the value of technology in accessing data.

Food Frenzy

Meanwhile, McLane Kitchen featured its Central Eats foodservice platform for the first time, as well as its other turnkey food programs.

Central Eats “provides high-quality, prepackaged breakfast, lunch and dinner items available for sale as a refrigerated or heated and ready-to-eat offering,” the company said. Also, Central Eats products can be branded with a retailer’s custom label or retain the Central Eats brand.

Also featured:

  • Choice Chicken, which includes a full fried-chicken program, along with a selection of sides.
  • Javaperks, McLane’s proprietary coffee and tea program, which features coffee, cappuccino, tea, iced coffee, cold brew and hot chocolate. New this year: a bakery program through supplier Prairie City Bakery, Vernon Hills, Ill.
  • Fly Guys Pizza, part of McLane’s private-label Customer Value Products (CVP) line, is available to sell frozen or cooked and served as part of a foodservice program.

The overriding goal, however, was to demonstrate how all the offers could fit together into a single foodservice program.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to sample Javaperks, Central Eats and Choice Chicken all in one setting,” said Cassandra Matos, senior director merchandising. “Customers can order the equipment, the signage and the food, all through McLane. We can help them create a branded foodservice look without the expense of bringing in all the things individual programs require.”

Temple, Texas-based McLane Co. is one of the largest supply-chain services companies in the United States, providing grocery and foodservice solutions for convenience stores, mass merchants, drug stores and chain restaurants.

Source: Convenience Store Petroleum