Why Food Companies Need Local Farms

In the video below we hear from Fedele Bauccio, founder and CEO of Bon Appetit Management. His company has built its reputation on locally sourced, seasonal, healthy foods, and is actively involved in sustainability issues affecting every aspect of the food industry.

Appalled at the state of industrial food service, Bauccio dreamed of providing great-tasting, locally sourced fresh food. He describes some of the hurdles his fledgling company faced.

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Isaac Pino: I'm ashamed to say that during college I had a stack of Little Caesars boxes that was about this tall in the dorm room at one point.

Would you say that the industry has changed in that time? You were appalled by this food service back then. How has the industry changed over the past 25 years? Has it been for the better?

Fedele Bauccio: Yes, it has been for the better and I think that we stirred that on. I think that, at the very beginning, I wanted to create a brand that had an emotional attachment, not only to our customers and clients that I was going to serve, but to our employees. I wanted to make a significant difference in the industry.

Now, I knew the industry at that time, and I knew it was a very mature industry with lots of competitors. I said to myself, “How do I break through and create something unique and different? The only way I’m going to be able to do that is to hire a bunch of people to have fun, be innovative, be creative, and be a bunch of rebels and do something that no one else has done before.”

What was that? It had to be great food that was chef-driven, food that was going to be cooked from scratch, that had great taste, that was seasonal and authentic. That was where I started.

I need to tell you that in order to create that emotional attachment, I did a dream. The dream was a mission statement, but we call it a dream. Every time we start a meeting in the company, we talk about that dream.

What happened was really something. I felt strongly that taste was critical. What happened was, early in the late '80s I was concerned about flavor.

I would taste a tomato -- this actually happened to me -- and it wasn’t like what Mom had in the backyard. It had wax on it and I don’t know where the hell it came from. Apples were the same way. They were in cold storage.

I said, “This is ridiculous. I’m hiring these great chefs; we have to do great food. We need to source great products.”

So I challenged the chefs -- at that time we were a very small company -- to go out in the fields. You’ve got to remember, I'm in San Francisco, so Napa Valley and the produce area near Monterrey and all that was very close to us.

I said, "Go, as close as you can to this kitchen." I remember I was in downtown San Francisco, and I said, "Go find me the best products you can. Go work with some farmers and come back and tell me if we can do this."

We had resistance, because when I said to the farmer, we said to the farmer, "We'll buy all of the arugula you can grow," they didn’t trust us. They had to get paid ahead of time because they had no money.

We were trying to figure this out. It took us about four or five years to get small farmers and local people to grow what we wanted to grow, enough of it, and gain the trust. Once we started that, the lightbulb went off.

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