To get a reading on how the foodservice industry is faring, I always go to the National Restaurant Show Convention held every year in Chicago. I have noticed some things in recent years that will have serious implications not just for foodservice, but vending as well.
A few years ago, a main line salesman who was shaking his head approached me. He was from one of America's biggest disposable cup companies (Solo Cup Co.) which had purchased a national cutlery company (Clearshield) some years before, but was being undercut greatly by Chinese-made cutlery.
As a distributor salesperson, I was thrilled to hear that I could purchase cases of wrapped cutlery and corner my local market with the cheap prices and severely slaughter my competition. But that lasted only as long as the wholesaler up the street and across town was getting the same cutlery.
Where did it get us in the long run?
But where did it get us? Everyone started to buy from China and brought the market down in price so that the American companies had to do something drastic to meet the competition.
Our domestic cutlery supplier answered the Chinese competition by setting up an agreement with a manufacturer in China to make cutlery for them, and with the cheaper labor and bulk shipments on container boats, they had prices that were about as cheap as the original Chinese cutlery. Our old domestic American manufacturer continued to sell his high-priced, higher-grade cutlery for those who wanted it, but also supplied the Chinese items under the table when we demanded it.
Solo Cup Co. dominated plastic cups for years. They made the best of their kind in the marketplace, and every other manufacturer tried to duplicate their performance.
Then things began to change. Solo bought out Sweetheart. And Solo still could not meet the demand, and the others filled in. The other cups began to get a little more of the market, but Solo held on.
Who makes the cups today?
This year at NRA, the Asians completely invaded McCormick Place in Chicago with clear plastic cups from strange companies such as Lollicup USA, RR Trading and Seow Kim Polythelene, along with the original Berkley Square. All are made abroad.
We are told these days in these times of extraordinarily high gasoline prices that the reason for the sudden and possibly permanent price change in the oil market that affects an average vending truck fleet is due to our heightened dependence on foreign oil and the rise of consumption by our trading partners from Asia.
It also includes the oil that is used to make the poly products such as plastic cups and cutlery, and sooner or later, containers, sandwich wedges and other items that a vending company uses in their business to dispense food from a machine, or in a cafeteria or supermarket line.
consider Who uses vending machines
Now that may not worry the vending operator. But there is a larger picture here. In order to keep our neighbors working in the factories that we want to install vending machines in, we should insist on domestically produced goods to support them. When a factory disappears, there are sometimes reasons not apparent to the casual observer.
Could it be that his items were replaced by items from another country?
Today, our unequal free trade policies, our demands for higher and higher wages in our producing factories, and politicians looking the other way on nonreciprocal tariff issues have made it easy for those to take our business away and shoot it back at us, unequally.
We need a little discipline on our part to realize that our bread is buttered here in America and we should support America as our primary source of supplies.
It is easy to say "Buy America First." For the sake of our customers and our own well-being and despite the allure of bargain prices from abroad, all of us better practice what we preach.