Brian Gross – John Gross & Company
For a hotel guest, hospital patient, restaurant diner or nursing home resident, a green bean may just be another item on a plate.
To Brian Gross and his family, it represents four generations of providing unparalleled customer service and exceptional quality products to the market—foodservice businesses across Pennsylvania.
The Gross’ journey began in 1950 not with produce but pounds of coffee in a small Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, apartment, which came to serve as a warehouse and headquarters. That’s where the father and son duo, John Gross Sr. and Jr., started John Gross & Company as a Maxwell House Coffee distributor. Over the next few decades, the list of products and services quickly grew beyond coffee sales and deliveries to include things like sanitation auditing.
“Unparalleled, unmatched attention and commitment to each and every customer is how we rapidly expanded—and continue to do so,” says Brian Gross, who is third generation and the company’s current CEO and president.
The company now distributes over 8,000 food products to hotels, restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes—but still has people, not automated services, answering phones. The customers remain as important to Brian Gross and his family as serving the highest quality meat, fresh seafood, produce and signature coffee as well as providing laundry, warewashing and sanitation services.
Since 2002, PA Preferred, a program within the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, has included John Gross & Company on its list of suppliers providing locally grown and processed agricultural products in support of the state’s farms.
“We have never tried to source the cheapest products like large warehouse distributors but rather the best products; we’ve delivered those superior customer service and personal touches like food demonstrations,” Gross says. “Only through the success of our customers can we hope to achieve ours.”
A heaping serving of innovative deliciousness
Gross assists customers in identifying which products can increase revenue and lower costs. This is why he puts together demonstrations geared specifically towards clients and their menus.
When speaking to Terra Firma in mid-May, he had a demonstration planned with a customer serving beer battered haddock, a best seller on the client’s menu. Gross and a team of his internal experts were going to recommend the client use John Gross & Company’s fresh haddock at half the cost of the competitor’s nationally branded one.
These demonstrations can occur as often as twice a week, always with the customer’s goals in mind, Gross says. Often, he and his team of experts will reach out to clients with suggestions.
In the past two years with the global pandemic and other factors, the cost of prime beef cuts, like the traditional ribeye steak, have skyrocketed. So, he’s been encouraging clients to consider more economical cuts, such as tri-tips.
He says this flavorful, tender cut from the bottom of the sirloin area can still be a “center-of-the-plate” cut, while costing a minimum of 35 percent less than conventional strip steaks. The demonstrations allow customers to taste and see this in real time before trying it in their businesses.
This effort extends to all food products. Gross makes new and existing clients aware of the Venezuelan fresh crabmeat the company sources after its flown into the Pennsylvania market. Many customers already use it, he says, adding that it’s half the cost of the pasteurized canned crabmeat other foodservice providers import from Asia.
“We’re showing our clients we care through providing them with different options, so they can get their diners back in the door or please their patients and serve an elevated plate at a fraction of the cost,” Gross says. “I’m always looking for opportunities to share helpful tips on market trends and seasonal pricing dynamics to ensure the clients have access to the food they want without breaking their budgets.”
A seasoning of service
Gross walks a two-way street with clients and is responding to their suggestions through upgrading the technology at John Gross & Company.
“We’ve always been a bit anti-establishment and thrived on that, but the time has come to change our approach,” he says.
He’s working on enlisting a vendor to help the company digitally onboard its new customers, which should speed up the process of deliveries, reorders and new requests. The upgrades will also include online ordering as well as direct, electronic payment options; he believes these will lead to more profits and increased efficiency for John Gross & Company and its clients.
This coincides with his work on updating the facilities, including the company’s warehouse in Mechanicsburg. He’s currently planning a 30,000-square-foot refrigerated expansion, which should be completed by the end of 2023. Apart from more space, Gross plans to integrate automation to help warehouse employees go beyond the required government initiatives, rules and regulations.
Currently, team members scan every perishable and non-perishable food product that enters the facility. Sources, sell-by dates and production codes help track the food, but the information is all saved in the facility warehouse management software. Gross says automating the process with hand-held devices will make it smoother, more efficient and easier.
“It will also improve our product quality process and make us even more confident about the food safety procedures we have in place,” he says.
Gross also wants to implement technology to benefit John Gross & Company’s approximately 100 team members. He wants to create everything from digital monthly newsletters for employees to a digital wellness program and biometric screening. He says this is part of his plan to better assist in employees’ financial, health, social and career needs.
He’s also sourcing business partners to help him offer more extensive and wide-ranging benefits.
“My family and I always want our employees happy and at their peak,” he says. “We want to provide them with the same level of attention and care that we give to our customers.”
Gross is determined to carry on the legacy of namesake John Sr. & Jr. and continue infusing the personal touch in everything the company does—now and for generations to come.
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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