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October 4, 2022

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CHEF’STORE President Irfan Badibanga. Photo courtesy of CHEF’STORE

US Foods’ CHEF’STORE, an alternative to wholesale clubs without membership requirements, is expanding its footprint across the US and now has 83 stores. On Saturday, it opened its fourth South Carolina location and on Wednesday announced that its second Utah market will open in 2023. The Rosemont, Illinois-based foodservice distributor recently named Irfan Badibanga as its president. Badibanga recently spoke with Winsight Grocery Business 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 more about it and its mission for the future?

Irfan Badibanga: CHEF’STORE is poised for tremendous growth across multiple geographies in the US in line with our omnichannel strategy focused on increasing synergies for US Foods’ broad customers. This means we want to make sure we offer our customers multiple channels to interact with US Foods. We know that some US Foods customers 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 per week through a local retail opportunity. In addition, our warehouse-like stores are open to the public to support our commitment to making it easier for non-US Foods customers, including restaurant operators, food industry professionals and home cooks to quickly stock up or replenish ingredients and supplies whenever they need them.

We are committed to delivering customer value centered around an unparalleled 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 wider communities so that they are the best source of food and supplies. In my role, I will continue to build on the retail operations expertise 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 remainder of fiscal year 2022 and into fiscal year 2023, please tell us about CHEF’STORE’s plan to expand its footprint and accelerate its growth in cash & carry market?

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

Shoppers have their loyalties when it comes to their beloved wholesale store, but CHEF’STORE is a warehouse that doesn’t require a membership, and your bulk ingredients and food prices are on par with most other big warehouse brands. As a business that has primarily appealed to those in the foodservice industry, are you seeing more non-foodservice shoppers 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 home cooks as customers, especially those planning family or community gatherings. We want to support anyone 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 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 that illustrates the strength of your omnichannel strategy, allowing broad-line customers to fill needs between deliveries throughout the week to help meet demand. Do you see growth for new potential customers learning about US Foods’ private label products as a purchasing 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 US Foods Great Food. Made easy. strategy, delivering innovative and trendy products that offer cost and labor savings and versatility is key to our differentiated value proposition and is certainly translatable to other areas of the culinary space and industry. At the end of the day, operators large 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 these products conveniently and at a competitive price.

In these inflationary times, wallet spending weighs heavily on the shopper’s mind. Where do you see food prices going and do you see any tailwinds in the near future for the consumer?

Food and labor costs remain top of mind for operators and we are certainly focused on providing customers with an expanded range of products that are pre-made to help lower costs behind them and provide high menu profitability. That said, as a warehouse style store, we also aim to provide competitive prices 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 want to ensure our customers have a wide variety of products to choose from at extremely competitive prices.

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