How We Built the Flanagan Market
If you're in the food & hospitality industry in Ontario, you probably know Flanagan Foodservice. Flanagan's is Canada's largest family-owned foodservice distributor, serving restaurants, institutions, and bakeries since 1977. Their story is one of service, quality, integrity, and hard work.
Today, Flanagan's serves more than 6,000 customers across Ontario. They have three warehouses, more than 500 employees, a fleet of 80+ trucks, and list well over 10,000 products. Still, even with their Ontario-wide distribution, world-class team, and award-winning products, Flanagan's needed to improve in one difficult area: local.
For mid-large foodservice distributors, supplying fresh local food is difficult. Logistics are complicated, as is vendor management and product pricing. For this reason, foodservice distributors tend to avoid local food procurement, but what happens when customers start to demand local food? Local food is more popular than ever but it's basically impossible for foodservice distributors to list. For Flanagan's, they knew the traditional model of foodservice distribution was not going to work, so they sought us out, and we built them the Flanagan Market.
The idea for the Flanagan Market started in early 2017 as a way to figure out how Flanagan's could list all the local food their customers were asking them for. They were already listing more than 400 Ontario products in their Our Ontario program which was a good start, but they were still missing the unique, niche, and diverse selection of products their customers were hungry for.
We were able to help Flanagan's in three ways:
The first thing we had to do was determine whether the products being sold by Local Line suppliers were a fit for what Flanagan's needed, but with customers like Top Shelf Collection, Full of Beans, and Artisan Farms, it didn't take us long to know that our suppliers and their products were a fit!
We built a "discover" tab in the platform so that Flanagan's could stay up to date on which suppliers and products were available to them, and they could start conversations with anyone they wanted.
Currently, Flanagan's has been able to find and list over 1,000 Ontario food products from three dozen Ontario suppliers, effectively more than tripling their local food offering.
Once we knew how to identify and onboard suppliers, we had to figure out how Flanagan's customers would order. We couldn't list the products in the traditional Flanagan's catalog because the products weren't being scanned, stored, and shipped from the Flanagan's warehouse. In most cases, we thought a drop-ship approach would be the best. So, we took Local Line's already award-winning e-commerce module, modified it, and made it usable by Flanagan's. Now, it lists all the local products in one online store, accessible by any customer 24/7.
The main reason foodservice distributors haven't been able to make local food work is because of distribution, so it was clear to us from the beginning that we couldn't just warehouse products and ship them with normal Flanagan orders. Margins would be too tight, logistics would be complicated to manage, and as a result, customers would probably end up unhappy.
After conducting an analysis of customer geographies and supplier shipping options, we determined that most Local Line suppliers already ship to the major cities Flanagan's customers are in. We also built the technology so that customers couldn't place orders from a supplier who doesn't deliver to them.
To make the products more accessible, over the span of two months we built out a network of third-party distributors to help ship products in hard to reach areas. Today, we work with Flanagan Market suppliers to find the right shipping partner and get them set up to ship Ontario-wide, just like Flanagan's.
There were many other details that went into building out the Flanagan Market including invoicing, quality assurance, ensuring food safety, and commissions. All of these, however, were details in relation to the fundamental questions about how to list and distribute products. Once the model, technology, and suppliers were in place, we launched the Flanagan Market on May 29th, 2017. Today, over 400 customers are on the platform (and growing)!