Retail Foodservice

CHEF'STORE President Irfan Badibanga talks expansion, inflation and welcoming non-foodservice industry shoppers

In his new role, Badibanga said the 83-unit CHEF’STORE is poised for tremendous growth as part of US Foods' omnichannel strategy.
US Foods
 CHEF'STORE President Irfan Badibanga. Photo courtesy of CHEF’STORE

US Foods' CHEF’STORE, an alternative to wholesale clubs with no membership required, is widening its footprint across the U.S. and now has 83 stores. On Saturday, it opened its fourth South Carolina location and on Wednesday, it announced its second market in Utah will open in 2023. The Rosemont, Illinois-based foodservice distributor recently named Irfan Badibanga as its president. Badibanga spoke with Winsight Grocery Business recently about the company's rapid growth, omnichannel strategy, inflation and introducing a new audience to CHEF'STORE.

Diane Adam: In your new role as president, part of your duties will include growing the CHEF’STORE stores as part of US Foods' omnichannel strategy. Tell us a little bit more about that and its mission for the future?

Irfan Badibanga: CHEF'STORE is poised for tremendous growth across multiple geographies in the U.S. as aligned with our omnichannel strategy that is focused on enhancing synergies for US Foods' broadline customers. This means that we want to ensure we are offering our customers multiple channels to interact with US Foods. We know that some US Foods customers who are looking for fill-in products between deliveries buy products through cash-and-carry stores, so we want to ensure that the quality products they expect from US Foods are available to them seven days a week through a local retail option. In addition, our warehouse-style stores are open to the public to support our commitment to make it easier for non-US Foods customers, including restaurant operators, food industry professionals and at-home chefs to quickly stock up or replenish ingredients and supplies anytime they need them.

We are committed to providing a customer value proposition that is centered around an incomparable customer experience. An experience that emphasizes a well-organized and clean environment with a consistently stocked assortment of products across all major categories in a variety of sizes at wholesale prices. We strive for CHEF’STOREs to be seamlessly integrated into their local markets, restaurant industries and broader communities so they are the go-to food and supplies source.In my role, I will continue to build on the retail operational excellence CHEF’STORE offers as we accelerate the growth of our footprint to serve more customers across the country.

CHEF’STORE shows no signs of stopping when it comes to expansion, especially in South Carolina, where a new 33,000-square-foot CHEF’STORE opened in September joining three existing CHEF’STORE locations across South Carolina. For the remaining FY 2022 and in FY 2023 can you tell us about CHEF’STORE’s plan to expand its footprint and accelerate its growth in the cash & carry market?

We have opened three new CHEF’STORE locations in Visalia, California, Lynchburg, Virginia and Spartanburg, South Carolina, with three additional locations slated to open this year in Santa Cruz and Merced, California, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As you mentioned, we have also announced the opening of stores in Helena, Montana and St. George, Utah next year, with plans to continue to accelerate the growth of CHEF’STORE throughout 2023. We look forward to announcing additional locations when the time is right.

Shoppers have their loyalty when it comes to their beloved wholesale store, but CHEF’STORE is a warehouse that does not require a membership, and your bulk ingredients and food prices are on par with most other big warehouse brands. As a company which has mainly appealed to those in the foodservice industry, are you seeing more shoppers not in the foodservice industry coming through your doors?

We certainly aim to appeal to food service operators as well as industry professionals such as caterers and food truck operators, but we also count at-home chefs as customers, especially those planning family or community gatherings. We want to support all that are looking for diversity in product sizes to meet their needs at a price that works for them. CHEF’STORE is open to the public and no, we do not require membership. While we do focus on meeting the needs of the foodservice operator, we strive to make the shopping experience inclusive for all.

CHEF’STORE is a cash-and-carry business, which illustrates the power of your omnichannel strategy and allows broadline customers to fill needs between deliveries during the week to help meet demand. Do you see growth for new potential customers getting to know US Foods’ private-label products as a buying option, especially as food prices remain high?

Yes, we value the opportunity for non-US Foods customers to experience our Exclusive Brand offerings. As part of the US Foods Great Food. Made Easy. strategy, delivering innovative and on-trend products that offer costs and labor savings, and versatility, is key to our differentiated value proposition and certainly translates to other areas of the culinary space and industry. At the end of the day, operators big and small are looking for the best products to meet the demands of their diners and their operations. We want to make it very easy for them to get those products conveniently and at a competitive price. 

During these inflationary times, wallet spend is weighing heavily on the shopper’s mind. Where do you see food prices headed and do you see any tailwind in the near future for the consumer?

Food costs and labor costs continue to be top of mind for operators and we’re certainly focused on providing customers with an expanded selection of products that are pre-made to help lower back-of-house costs and provide high menu profitability. That said, as a warehouse-style store, we also aim to provide competitive pricing and a variety of products at different price points to offer customers more choice. I know better than to speculate on the future of food costs, but what I do know is that at CHEF’STORE, we will ensure our shoppers have a wide variety of products to choose from, at highly competitive prices.   

 

 

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