April 28, 2021

2.jpgIndustry Spotlight: Harbor Foodservice
The past few years have been a roller coaster ride for the employees of Harbor Foodservice. But it's the ups and downs that came before the pandemic that prepared and united the team when things turned upside down.

"Harbor Foodservice is the oldest, newest broadliner in the Northwest," says Nathan Stromberg, Business Resource Manager at Harbor Foodservice. For context, Harbor Wholesale bought a portion of Food Services of America (FSA) in 2019 and created Harbor Foodservice. Many of the FSA employees and accounts moved over to the new company making it old and new at the same time.

"Those of us that transitioned over were nervous," explains Nathan. "Our team supported each other to get through the changes. Because even good change is stressful."

So Harbor Foodservice got up and running in late 2019, only to come to a screeching halt with government shutdowns in March 2020. "Practically overnight, business was down by 75%," Nathan says. "And we had so much extra inventory; we had to do something."

The management team at Harbor tasked Nathan with leading an initiative to counteract this unique situation. He gathered a group from departments across the company, and the first question they asked themselves was, "how can we do better?" The resounding answer to that question resulted in the motto: "Better together as a team." This was the beginning of a program that came to be known as #HarborCares.

There are three components to #HarborCares. First, it was essential to make sure Harbor teammates were taken care of— because they had already been through a stressful time with the transition. Second, they wanted to support their customers and their customer's employees; and third, the team wanted to support their beloved Pacific Northwest community.

bags.jpgThe first event the #HarborCares team planned was a food giveaway for Harbor teammates. They took excess inventory, created 400 food boxes, and handed them out to about 150 of their 250 employees. They repeated this process during the holiday season to make sure teammates who had reduced hours or were furloughed had enough to eat. Transportation Manager Phil Bye says that “talking to my people about layoffs, those were the hardest conversations. With the food giveaway I got to tell them something positive. I was so happy to tell them they could come fill up their trunk with bags and boxes of food.”

harbor-cares.jpgNext, they partnered with Big Table and local influencer restaurants to organize food and meal giveaways for restaurant workers.  The boxes had a note attached that said in bold letters, "YOU MATTER." The message went on to say, "You're part of an amazing industry. You help nourish and serve people throughout your community and make little moments of goodness possible. Today it's our turn to say Thank You with a small gesture from our kitchen. Even though there's uncertainty everywhere, we're confident that together we'll get through this." Nathan estimates they have provided over 8,500 meals through the Big Table partnership.

The #HarborCares team found that partnering up with other organizations was the way to reach the most people in the community. Shortly after the pandemic shutdowns, they partnered with Food Lifeline and The Union Gospel Mission of Seattle and by the end of 2020 had donated roughly $150,000 worth of excess inventory. 

The team at Harbor Foodservice found that in addition to the support #HarborCares provided to the foodservice workers, restaurants needed more guidance and solutions to navigate successfully through changing customer patterns. Nathan and his Business Development team helped their clients pivot to support more take-out business. "That meant that we had to work through their misgivings about tech so they could take more online orders. They also had to restructure their menus to reduce their expenses, and we provided signage so that they could communicate professionally to their customers," explains Nathan. "A hand-written sign about cleaning and safety measures the restaurant is taking does not instill confidence, so our underutilized marketing department got to work creating a variety of polished materials for the restaurants." The response was very positive, and Nathan has seen a handful of restaurants become new Harbor clients because of all the extra support they provided throughout the pandemic.

Barney Edwards, Warehouse Manager for Harbor Foodservice, agrees that the camaraderie and open communication that got the staff through the ownership transition continued throughout the pandemic. "When I started as a selector back in the '80s, you clocked in, did your job, and clocked out. Now, my employees want to be involved. When they come in each shift, they ask, 'What are the numbers today?' and 'Did we land that new client?' They are very engaged in the success of Harbor." And Barney says Harbor made a point to communicate frequently with the staff throughout the COVID crisis to ensure that they knew it was safe to come into the warehouse, what measures were being taken, and that the business, and their jobs, would survive.

harbor-note.pngPhil feels that his drivers are heroes for the courage they displayed, particularly in the beginning of the pandemic when fear of COVID exposure was so high. “These guys went out there and had many interactions with clients throughout their route while everyone else was social distancing and staying away from the public. And as CDC guidelines changed and Harbor had to change protocol, the drivers just rolled with it.” It seems that Phil is not the only one who is appreciative of his drivers. Last April one of the Harbor drivers, Joe Brandfas, found a note on his truck while he was delivering to The Rialto Tavern in St John, Washington. The note had a picture of a Harbor truck and said, “THANK YOU!! This small town appreciates all you do for us!! You are a hero to us.”

Nathan, Phil, and Barney all sense that business is about to go through the roof as restaurant restrictions are lifted. But Barney isn't worried; he says his team has a great attitude and is up for the challenge. "I can't wait to get back to some of my favorite activities. One is job-specific meetings, where we get people together to share how things are going and discuss solutions. Another is Friday meals, where we create menus and cook up enough food for everyone up in our kitchen, and management takes the opportunity to talk to everyone. And as the drivers come back from their routes, we greet them and make sure they get some, too."

Relationships are clearly important at Harbor, and the #HarborCares initiative is an extension of the company's attitude that the team members are family to be taken care of, and that their customers and community are meant to be served and supported. Join us as we celebrate Harbor Foodservice and their employees for not only their resilience in face of adversity but their commitment to helping others even in the toughest of times.

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