With COVID-19 dismantling the restaurant industry as we know it, restaurants and distributors alike look for new audiences and income streams to stay afloat. We’re talking to wholesalers to learn how the pandemic is impacting their business, how they have shifted to sell directly to consumers, and why you should buy from them.
After years working in Bay Area sustainable agriculture, Cliff Pollard launched Cream Co. Meats in 2016. He saw a void in the marketplace, where chefs and butchers wanted access to sustainable meat, but distribution companies provided little transparency. “I really wanted to create a marketplace where ranchers were celebrated for their diversity and what they were doing differently from one another,” he says.
Now, Cream Co. brings a broad platform to small-scale, independent farmers and ranchers around the West coast. They specialize in whole animal butchery, utilizing every part of the animal and ensuring ranching partners can sell everything they produce. With all-natural, non-GMO, grass-fed, and grass-finished products, Cream Co. prides itself on a hands-on approach to a “heavily certified supply chain.”
“We’re doing much more than looking at a catalog and deciding what to buy and sell,” says Cliff. “We go to the farms, see slaughters, sit with families, work with animals. That has a really big impact.”
Shopping Guide: Top Picks
Basic Box: This “social distancing starter kit” feeds two people for one week or one person for two weeks. The selection includes ground beef, ground pork, beef fajita strips, bacon, and a whole chicken.
Bunker Box: The Bunker Box feeds two people for two weeks, and feeds them well. It boasts everything from the Basic Box, plus salumi, New York strip steaks, and boneless pork chops.
Family Bunker Box: This box packs a freezer with enough clean, healthy meat to support a household of four through two to three weeks. Enjoy more of everything in the Bunker Box, including extra steaks, pork chops, and salumi.
TO ORDER: Shop Cream Co.’s boxes here. $25 local deliveries are available for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, along with free curbside pickup.
Featured Cream Co. Partners
Pasturebird Chicken: As the largest pastured poultry producer in the US, Pasturebird focuses on environmental impact first. These Temecula-raised chickens eat fresh grass, clover, and clean milled grains as part of a fully regenerative ecosystem, resulting in tender and flavorful meat.
Klingeman Farms: Klingeman Farms was the country’s first ranch to be certified by the Food Alliance and Non-GMO Project. Their pork products are prized for superior fat and flavor – thank their fine European grain diets – and are perfect for cooking and curing.
Journeyman Meat: Healdsburg salumist Pete Seghesio produces charcuterie the old Italian way, with small-batch fermentation and low-temperature aging. The result: a consistently delicious, more natural product.
Everyone now has access to Cream Co’s fine dining-quality, sustainable meat
Cream Co. works primarily with restaurants and corporate cafeterias – they count Airbnb and Uber as customers – but with San Francisco’s COVID-19 lockdown, Cliff says, “90% of our revenue disappeared overnight.” Businesses closed down, and corporations sent employees home. Retailers thrived and boomed, but as those outlets had not been a significant focus for Cream Co., they had to adapt quickly to forge a path forward.
The team pivoted production to prioritize retail fabrication for their ecommerce platform. Items that would usually be sold wholesale are now individually portioned into boxes. Through the Cream Co. website, they are selling three boxes for delivery and curbside pickup, designed to cover needs for households of two or more: the Basic Box, the Bunker Box, and the Family Bunker Box.
So far, the Family Bunker Box has been the most popular. “It’s a crazy good value,” says Cliff. “People are getting a lot of bang for their buck – ground beef, ground pork, pork chops, and more.”
Next, they hope to launch quarter- and half-animals for direct to consumer sale. They are also planning a Regenerative Box, full of products that come from certified regenerative ranches, and a Bone Broth Box, with bones from animals raised on regenerative farms.
Impact from COVID-19
With restaurants and corporate cafeterias closed, Cream Co. has furloughed more than half of its team. They had planned to cut even more, around 75%, but because Bunker Box sales picked up, they were able to keep a portion of the team on for another week.
According to industry norms, distributors have to pay ranching partners within seven days, but as Cream Co. sells products, restaurants must pay them within 30 days. That means that even when business is booming, distributors sit in the middle of a cash crunch, expected to extend a line of credit to restaurant customers while paying vendors immediately.
“In the best of times, it’s difficult to manage,” says Cliff. “The vast majority of our restaurant partners have said that they can’t pay the bills – it’s tough being in the middle.”
Right now, Cliff and his team are marching forward with what they can do to stay in business. As Cream Co. adapts to retail sales, the team is seeking new retail partnerships, exploring opportunities to include their product in CSA offerings or sell on other distributors’ websites.
“Support local restaurants. Go to the farmers’ market,” Cliff urges. “We want the whole industry to survive.”