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Operators Need Distributors to Expand this Year;Executive Says Independents Offer Up Fun in Foodser

SALT LAKE CITY - Independent operators are where the fun is in foodservice and it's incumbent upon savvy distributors to teach them ways to enhance that positive experience, advises Bill Mouskondis, ceo of Nicholas and Co., a family-owned ID Top 50 broadliner here.

Mouskondis, in an interview with ID Access, supported industry pundits' views about positive growth for foodservice this year, explaining that eating out is virtually an inherent right of all Americans.

"The exciting thing about foodservice is that it is the only part of the food industry that will continue to grow. It's the lifestyle of the American economy. The cost of dining out is still a terrific value and foodservice's percentage of the dollar allocated to food will continue to increase. It's a form of recreation, it's not just a way of eating," said Mouskondis, the 2003 ID Hall of Fame inductee.

While business will expand this year, Mouskondis cautions that it will not be uniform. Even the West, which is earmarked for proportionately more growth, the broadliner executive said, will not experience consistent expansion. Mouskondis points out that growth will be greatest in the bigger population areas - not in Wyoming, Utah or Idaho. "The percentage of growth will be great but when it comes to actual dollars, it's not going to be a huge number because we have such a small population. There were more people at a Chicago airport this morning than in the state of Utah," Mouskondis quipped.

Mouskondis believes independent operators are facing greater opportunities and as the economy turns around this year they should be prepared to invest more in their future.

"Independent restaurants are a lot of fun because both the novices and the experienced operators bring their creativity to the marketplace and make dining out even more fun," he continued.

However, none of this means that foodservice distributors can take a back seat in the supply chain, he observed. Distributors must become involved in their operator-customers' businesses and help them grow. "We're trying to teach them that we, distributors, are really not becoming bigger just to be more sophisticated to deal with but we're getting bigger to give them more value-added services and to guide them in their practices of purchasing that can compete with the chains," Mouskondis said.

Comparing chain operators with independent restaurateurs, Mouskondis indicated that the former have become more mature in their relationships up and down the supply chain. "They don't entertain every competitor in town, when they come to the back door, just to see what the best price of bacon is. They pick a supplier and make sure that he plays by their rules and it's a win-win for everybody," he said. Consequently, they have cut costs and become more efficient and effective.

On the other hand, independents waste money by shopping around too much. "Generally, they want to entertain every salesman, interview every distributor to see if they're getting the lowest price, or can pay a little bit slower, or fill in orders more frequently without a penalty, or request a free computer, or a trip to Hawaii. All of this is expensive and who pays for it? These aren't the best methods of lowering costs and gaining efficiencies to compete with our real competitors, the retail grocery segment," Mouskondis explained.

While he didn't reveal specifics, Mouskondis said the distributorship, which is a member of UniPro, DMA and Markon, grew its sales last year even though the Utah marketplace was still experiencing a post-Olympics slowdown. Nonetheless, he is optimistic about prospects this year but only if he takes advantage of the opportunities that he'll create.

Colorful as he is about describing what's on his mind, Mouskondis compared the looming government regulations facing the foodservice industry to landmines that can be avoided only by skilled navigators. With plentiful concerns about food safety, Mad Cow, obesity and healthy foods, Mouskondis, a second-generation foodservice executive, said the maturing foodservice industry has fallen under a legislative microscope. Distributors need to unite with their operator-customers to overcome what he calls "senseless government meddling."

"Distributors can show more sympathy for the operator. We have to tell operators that we're here with solutions. Let's beat this thing together and unite with our operator-customers against government meddling. IFDA is a strong vehicle to do that and it's already cooperating with NRA," he said.

However, one positive government ruling has been the White House's decision to offer a sort of amnesty to immigrants already in the United States. "The government's immigration
policies will help operators. They need this relief. If it weren't for the immigrants a lot of the menial tasks wouldn't be performed to the satisfaction of the consumer," Mouskondis noted, emphasizing that the ultimate focus of the distributor and the operator-customer is the consumer.

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