White Cap Distribution

Strong industry ties, infrastructure improvements and new market growth set Winnipeg distributor up for the future
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Sean Davis

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, White Cap Frozen Foods dba White Cap Distribution has been a longstanding, trusted name in food service distribution for the last 32 years. By focusing on delivering the fastest service and customer support, building strong relationships with both suppliers and chefs and carrying a selective line of top-quality products, White Cap is building on a strong reputation and setting the stage for the next 30 years.

The family-run operation is co-owned by brothers Kevin and Barry Lavallee. Kevin and Barry took over the company reins about three years ago when their father, Paul Lavallee and his partners began to retire.

White Cap Distribution

A solid foundation

The foundation the original owners set in place has helped propel White Cap to new heights. “My father and his two partners, W.M. Burgess and Ed Laurin, started White Cap as a small seafood sales and purchasing team after leaving Booth Fisheries. The three of them brought together more than 65 years of food service experience,” recounts Kevin.

“The bridges and relationships my father and his partners built have set us up for great success,” adds Barry. “Kevin and I both started working with them years ago and we learned a great deal about the business — what our customers are looking for, how to serve them and how to secure quality products. The leadership has certainly shaped who we are today.”

White Cap has steadily progressed from a small seafood supplier to a major player in the distribution business throughout central Canada. The company supplies and delivers to a number of restaurants, hotels and institutions, offering everything from fresh and frozen fish to chicken, beef, pork, fruits and vegetables as well as paper goods and a variety of small kitchenware.

The push into retail

The Winnipeg market has become more populated with chain restaurants moving in, making it tough for an independent distributor like White Cap to compete with larger players. In an effort to diversify and use many products White Cap already carries in another channel, the company has started to expand into the retail environment.

“We started eyeing this market about four years ago, when we started seeing more and more smaller family restaurants closing” says Barry. “We have slowly grown and diversified our stock, looking for products that serve both retail and food service customers. This has helped our business, when the restaurant season is slow, we can push more products through retail. We’ve already seen good growth without having to carry many multiple skus. We’ve been listed with several major retailers which is a great add-on to the mom-and-pop stores in Winnipeg.”

One of the strongest supply categories for White Cap in both retail and food service sectors is IQF frozen fruits and vegetables. “People are looking for healthy, on-the-go options and family-size servings of fruits and vegetables,” says Kevin. “We have started to carry many retail ready packs in clear bags that allow you to see the quality and consistency of the product. This is very important to today’s customer.”

“With almost one-third of the world’s fresh food ending up in the trash instead of being consumed, frozen is a great alternative in reducing waste and helping the consumer in food cost savings” explains Barry.

Customers want convenience, recyclable goods

Barry and Kevin say they’ve seen a shift in the market. Consumers are starting to adopt the fresh-frozen idea for convenience and for fruits and vegetables at their peak. “If you buy fresh strawberries, they have been picked, cleaned, sorted and shipped. They may be up to 10 days old by the time they are consumed. Whereas, the frozen product was picked, cleaned and flash frozen at the peak of freshness and nutritional value,” explains Barry.

Along with healthy items, White Cap’s customers are looking for environmentally friendly products. “We’ve started carrying more biodegradable and fully compostable paper goods and storage products,” says Kevin. “This line includes to-go boxes, paper cups, napkins, portion cups and more. We’ve found that a lot of businesses are seeing the value and benefits of using environmentally friendly green products.”

Increasing efficiency with new ERP

In the food service business, timing is everything. White Cap keeps strong ties with its customers by always delivering product on time and keeping the items in stock that they rely on to serve hundreds of customers.

But tracking these items and customer orders is a massive project. Over the last five years, White Cap has made major technology infrastructure improvements for order tracking, delivery and every point in between with a new Sage 300 ERP system.

The company has also put iPads in the hands of all of its sales reps so they have the real-time information they need to better serve customers. “They can access inventory, customer information such as previous order history all the way back to specific dates,” says Barry. “This technology is helping us make better decisions in the field. We’re walking through our customer’s coolers, stock rooms and kitchens and showing them their past usage in order to make better recommendations.”

The Sage system-iPad ordering is also helping to prevent White Cap from missing out on orders. “If we happen to be out of a specific item, we can pull up our current inventory and suggest other products that may work for our customers,” explains Barry. “This enables us to sell more products.”

Kevin and Barry advocated for this technology because, even as upper leadership, they are still boots on the ground, purchasing, selling and most importantly, talking with customers, says Kevin. “We have that relationship with the end user and with manufacturers who supply us. We work to build these relationships, because this is what helps us grow.”

Many of White Cap’s employees have been with the company for 20-plus years and are also dedicated to cultivating relationships. “I think our customers really like that when they call here, they can talk to the same person and their delivery truck driver is a familiar face. We are very proud of this level of service we bring and our quality and consistency,” says Barry.

After 32 years, White Cap Distribution is going strong, diversifying and sticking to the same customer-service philosophy that has carried the business thus far.

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