Food distribution giant Sysco Corp. works with thousands of restaurants across the country — but like food, it doesn't ever want its reputation to get stale.
That's why the company enlisted the help of Bolster, a small Minneapolis branding agency that's quickly building a track record by helping food providers show where their products come from.
"The challenge [with Sysco] is there's a perception that everything comes out of a can," said Bolster brand director Jason Hammond. "So sometimes they'll see negative reviews on Yelp. Someone will make a comment like, 'Fell off the back of a Sysco truck,' as in, it was canned food. In reality, that's a portion of their business."
Bolster is working to round out that image using documentary-style interviews with restaurant owners and other Sysco clients.
In one unreleased video, Houston chef Randy Evans shows off his commitment to locally grown food. He does his own beekeeping and grows his own produce, and he also works with Sysco.
"I was kind of shocked that they worked with local farmers," Evans said in the video. "They could bring in these small-farm-raised local products without a problem."
Interviews with customers are a hallmark of Bolster's approach. The agency, which has a staff of just eight, was founded on the idea that it would aim not to tell customers what each company wanted to be, but what it really was.
"Instead of Sysco telling restaurants, 'We can do this,' they're letting a peer of the restaurant owners and operators say, 'This is who I am and this is who I've selected to work with,' " Hammond said.
A representative of Sysco confirmed the deal with Bolster but declined to comment on the partnership.
The three-year-old agency is growing quickly as consumers crave more authentic stories from companies, Hammond said. Bolster won three Telly Awards for online video this year. One award recognized a spot Bolster did for Crispin Hard Cider that followed the production process from the orchard to the bottle.
The agency has about 25 clients in a variety of areas, Hammond said, including food and beverage but also travel, health and other categories.
People crave transparency from food providers, and that's a trend that won't reverse itself anytime soon, said Jack Russo, an Edward Jones stock analyst who follows Sysco.
"Consumers are becoming more demanding," Russo said. "They want the freshest product they can get, if it's without chemicals, if it's organic, anything that's good for you. This health and wellness kick that consumers are on in this country, I don't think is ever going to turn back."
He added that Sysco, which works with schools, hospitals and stadiums as well as restaurants, has a fairly good reputation overall. The company's stock prices have risen steadily during the past year, from about $29 a share to about $35.