By: Steve Holtz | September 15, 2023

Distributor is investing in new hires to energize its ‘Fresh’ offering

McLane Grocery President Chris Smith talks like he knows he’s on to something good when he discusses the new foodservice effort from the distributor.

“The education that I’ve gotten in terms of various types of cheeses and how far the cheese should actually extend when you pull it from your mouth on a piece of pizza … that has been pretty interesting,” he told CSP Daily News during an exclusive interview at the new McLane Engage tradeshow and conference. “I think everything related to our fresh offering is much improved.”

That “fresh offering” is McLane Fresh, a new foodservice program unveiled on the tradeshow floor in late August. It’s an expanded foodservice offering that includes a new coffee program, a new pizza program, hot sandwiches, and other grab-and-go options from McLane’s Central Eats brand.

“We have really doubled down our investments and capabilities related to McLane Fresh,” Smith said, referring to two new hires made this year.

Jon Cox came to McLane in March in the newly created role of vice president of retail foodservice. He was given the directive to create a framework in which the distributor could build a quality foodservice program.

“The directive was to answer some questions: What’s going to make us different five years from now?” Cox told CSP. “Why choose McLane?”

“We want to meet you on your foodservice journey wherever you are, whether that’s the roller grill or a full-service program.”

Just a matter of months into that five-year journey, Cox said the starting point was creating a point of entry, something McLane could build on and grow.

“McLane Fresh is an evolution of McLane Kitchen,” Cox said. “It’s the evolution of where the customer is going [and] where McLane is going.”

To help him get there, Cox invited former coworker Farley Kaiser to join the effort as senior director of culinary innovation. Cox and Kaiser had both previously worked for GetGo Café + Market. There, they connected on a common goal: to create consumer trust that they can “get great pizza or a sandwich.”

“If you do that at one store, it benefits all convenience stores,” Kaiser said, “And at McLane, we have the opportunity to do that in hundreds of c-stores.”

Key among that effort are the new coffee and pizza program, which come complete with new products and equipment, should a retailer need it.

The coffee program, dubbed CupZa! is built on bean-to-cup machines from Franke, as well as espresso, multiple cold-brew options, and brewed tea and lemonade.

The pizza—which will formally be christened during the NACS Show in October—launched in Dallas with two styles—four-cheese and pepperoni, with more to come.

In fact, Cox promises there’s more to come across the McLane Fresh portfolio.

“I’m excited about McLane Fresh,” he said. “McLane Fresh, as you see it here, came together in just 18 weeks of a five-year journey.”

To continue the process, Cox said he’s got additional roles to fill on his team.

“What I see five years from now [is] relationships,” he said. “We want to meet you on your foodservice journey wherever you are, whether that’s the roller grill or a full-service program.”

Smith says he’s eager to watch the progress.

“I do think that when we take a look five years from now, the things that we’re doing now are going to impact the business and our customers and our suppliers,” he said. “And it’s something that I think we’re really, really excited about.”

Based in Temple, Texas, McLane Co. Inc. is one of the largest distributors in America, serving convenience stores, mass merchants and chain restaurants.

Source: CSP