INDIANAPOLIS — Getting food from producers to your dinner plate, that is the role of a distributor on Indianapolis' northwest side, Piazza Produce.
Marcus Agresta is the president of the company that has been in business for years, focusing on restaurant-quality food and produce, and giving special attention to locally produced products. Piazza distributes goods across the Midwest and the company was on pace to have a record year at the start of 2020.
But the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans, and the typical customers of this distributor, including restaurants, caterers, schools, and cafeterias were forced to close their doors.
"That all stopped literally overnight as everyone knows," Agresta said. "That was a rough few weeks."
While many Hoosiers flocked to grocery stores only to find many shelves bare, Piazza Produce had shelves full of perishable food with nowhere to go.
"As soon as they are picked off their vine or whatnot it's, the clock is on," Agresta said. "And if we don't sell it, we are going to smell it, that's kind of a saying in our industry"
Piazza Produce remained open as an essential business. But Agresta said part of what made the shutdowns so challenging was planning for the unknown for their customers.
"It's got a time clock on it and just planning and forecasting has just been, it's really tough," Agresta said. "School's gonna start, not it's not. Oh, we are going to go back part-time. No we are not."
Heather Tallman with Indiana Grown says the fear of a lack of food sent people to the stores in a panic.
"I think some people were concerned that there would be a shortage of food or price gouging," Tallman said.
But the awareness about food and where it comes from provided an opportunity for Indiana Grown members like Piazza Produce.
"Suddenly people are wanting to buy freezer beef, you know, chicken and things like that," Tallman said. "So whereas there wasn't so much of a shortage of food, there's suddenly an influx in awareness."
And Agresta and his team stepped up and tried things they have never tried before in order to move product off their shelves.
"We did public sales, you know, literally in a few days we came up with that," Agresta said. "Restaurant-type quality products to your door, that sort of thing. So we are still doing that."
He says his team was able to pivot and donate products to food banks during this time of need and also create direct consumer sales for the first time.
"We are still doing some mobile markets," Agresta said. "We use this saying a lot during this time: 'laying new tracks.' So we've laid some new tracks."
Agresta said morale in their company was at a high as everyone jumped in during the early weeks of the pandemic to help get this new business model off the ground while also helping people in need.
"Just to see our team and our culture, but man everybody's just rolling their sleeves up, doing things they've never done before," Agresta said. "Packing boxes, the marketing team and the sales team, you know, literally doing physical labor. So ya, it saved us not just financially, but also helped us, you know, from a morale standpoint."
Plus, the flexibility and willingness to try something new have led to a new avenue of future revenue.
Agresta says they are working with an IT company on an app that will allow consumers to pick the products they want to buy directly from them.
They hope to have that available to consumers soon.
For updates on mobile markets and Piazza Produce, visit its website.
And to learn more about Indiana Grown or how to become a member, go to IndianaGrown.org.