Think that food you're eating in a restaurant, even the better restaurants, is fresh and prepared on the spot?
Even the Amish use Sysco.
Every Bite You Take
How Sysco came to monopolize most of what you eat.
A hot dog from Yankee Stadium. Potato latkes from the Four Seasons in Manhattan. Sirloin steak at Applebee's. The jumbo cheeseburger at the University of Iowa Hospital. While it would seem these menu items have nothing in common, they're all from Sysco, a Houston-based food wholesaler. This top food supplier serves nearly 400,000 American eating establishments, from fast-food joints like Wendy's, to five-star eating establishments like Robert Redford's Tree Room Restaurant, to mom-and-pop diners like the Chatterbox Drive-In, to ethnic restaurants like Meskerem Ethiopian restaurant. Even Gitmo dishes out food from Sysco. Should you worry that one source dominates so much of what you eat?...
The ingredients alone on some of the pre-made items are enough to make a restaurant-goer swear off eating out. The breaded cheese chicken breast, for instance, contains monocalcium phosphates, sorbic acid preservatives, and oleoresin in turmeric. The Serve Smart Chicken is particularly frightening. While it looks natural, it consists of parts of other chicken breasts mashed together into a single, chicken-breastlike block. As the company notes on its Web site, our "unique 3-D technology gives you the look and texture of a solid muscle chicken breast, at a fraction of the cost. … Available in four great flavors: teriyaki, BBQ, fajita and original." What Smart Chicken tastes like, I'd rather not know….
It comes as little surprise that institutions like hospitals, universities, and military bases flock to Sysco's pre-cooked foods. But well-regarded bistros and pubs have also begun to offer such items to save time and money. Recently, New York magazine reported that Thomas Keller uses frozen Sysco fries at his Bouchon bistros. (While a company spokeswoman wouldn't confirm the brand, she confirmed the use of frozen fries.) Mickey Mantle's Restaurant, an upscale sports bar, serves Sysco's pre-made soups, like Manhattan clam chowder and vegetarian black bean. And then there's Edgar's restaurant at Belhurst Castle, which has won numerous awards of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. There, the kitchen takes Sysco's Imperial Towering Chocolate Cake out of the box, lets it defrost, and then sprinkles it with fresh raspberries before serving it to diners. "We've had a lot of success with that cake," executive chef Casey Belile says. The Edgar's menu, of course, does not list the dessert as a Sysco pre-made cake, but it does charge $8.95 for the experience....
A Potentially Harmful Merger
JAN. 20, 2014
A proposed merger between two of the largest suppliers of food to restaurants, hotels and school cafeterias could significantly reduce competition and drive up prices of the meals Americans eat outside their homes. Of all the money consumers spend on food, nearly half is spent at restaurants.
Sysco, the country’s largest distributor of food, last month offered to buy its biggest competitor, US Foods, in a deal valued at $8.2 billion. The combined business would have $65 billion in annual revenue and would be five times bigger than its next biggest competitor, which would give it power in a fragmented business known for having thousands of small firms. The merged company would control about 25 percent of the total food distribution business in the country.
By reducing meaningful competition, the new company would be able to demand higher prices to deliver food to restaurants and cafeterias, forcing them to charge their customers and users more. Sysco and US Foods have argued that the merged company would be able to offer customers more products in more parts of the country.
About that Amish market ...
There's an old saying in journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Reporters are supposed to be skeptical.
But when an Amish guy in a straw hat and one of those mustache-free beards told me he was selling grass-fed beef raised without antibiotics or added hormones on a Lancaster County farm, I quite literally bought it. When I was done reporting at Baltimore's new Amish market, I happily shelled out for some ground beef and flank steak for home.
Only later, when I prepared to write a story on the market for The Sun's Taste section, did I bother to Google the farm where the meat guy said the beef had been raised. John F. Martin & Sons wasn't bragging about any grass-fed beef on its website, so I called. The owner told me the company only processes and distributes beef -- all of it raised in conventional feedlots around the country….
Another vendor at the market made no bones about where his chicken came from.
"Sysco," J.R. Beiler reported cheerfully.
Edited by boink, 31 January 2014 - 03:35 PM.