Fifty years in business is worthy of celebration. As an operator, I was a Vistar customer for over 30 years at World Wide Vending and Gourmet Coffee Service.
Vistar – a leading national distributor of candy, snacks and beverages to vending, micro market, pantry service and office coffee service operators – was an instrumental part of our success, conveniently providing the products we needed to serve our customers in every channel of our business.
In this Q&A with Sherri Hager, Vistar’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, she discusses the company’s successful track record, how Vistar has evolved over the years and what 2023 looks like for this large national distributor.
BT: What has been fundamental to Vistar’s growth over the last 50 years?
SH: We believe that putting the customer first is at the heart of our growth and long-standing success. By understanding our customer’s needs, we have been able to develop and deliver products and services that lead the industry and diversify our business in 13 unique business segments that we currently compete in. Equally important to our success is our dedicated associates who are committed to delivering excellent service and innovative solutions. We also recognize that our supplier partnerships are foundational to our business success over the past 50 years.
BT: Why do you feel Vistar should be an essential supplier for operators?
SH: We prioritize collaboration and opportunity and have prided ourselves to be at the forefront of everything we do as a distributor. As the industry has evolved, we have adapted to the market changes and carry a variety of products beyond traditional single-serve snacks and beverages. From paper and disposables to trending product categories, we are always growing our assortment to meet customers’ needs.
BT: What is the greatest challenge facing Vistar today?
SH: Consumer behavior has changed significantly over the years – one of the challenges we face is the evolving consumer and meeting their needs. As an example, we have witnessed a consumer focus on healthier better-for-you items and launched our Good to Go Program. We will continue to understand the ever-changing consumer and stock the products to meet their needs.
BT: Are there any particularly noticeable product trends emerging?
SH: We are always looking at emerging trends in the marketplace and adapting. We continue to see heathier attributes trending upward, ranging from dietary needs like keto, vegetarian or reduced sugar diets. Beyond heathier items, we see a larger opportunity with supplier diversity programs and sustainable initiatives.
BT: Post-COVID, what changes are you seeing – regarding today’s consumer?
SH: Consumption patterns are changing as the consumer returns to on-the-go lifestyles. Categories that struggled during the pandemic are making a strong comeback, from nutrition bars and meal replacements to gum and mints, we are seeing positive consumption growth. Other emerging categories to pay attention to are grab-and-go refrigerated items and frozen foods. The breadth and depth of the portfolio is as strong as ever and will continue to see innovation in sub-categories like meals kits and entrees.
BT: What is the greatest challenge facing operators today?
SH: With any marketplace shift as large as what we went through with the COVID-19 pandemic, new challenges and opportunities always emerge. One of the greatest challenges we are witnessing is understanding the ever-evolving consumer and associated solutions. We have designed our warehouses to be a one-stop shop for various product solutions and supportive consumer insights to help our customers be on the leading edge of marketplace trends.
BT: What should operators expect from Vistar in 2023?
SH: We are evolving and innovating in a variety of ways in 2023 and beyond to bring our customers the services to lead the way in the industry. We are launching a new ordering platform in 2023 that will allow for an enhanced customer experience with upgraded content and imagery and the ability to locate your delivery truck in real time. We also expect supply chain trends will continue to normalize as demand becomes more predictable. Beyond our internal initiatives, we are always looking at continued opportunities to be more collaborative with our customers to bring better value.