“The pandemic made me realize that we were on the right track and that the things that are meaningful to me are also meaningful to the community,” said Matt Caputo of Caputo’s, a specialty market and deli in Salt Lake City. Caputo spoke during an SFA webinar, Tuesday, about how being agile and sticking to its beliefs helped it get through the hardest months of the pandemic.
One of the first challenges of COVID-19 was a “tidal wave of perishables,” said Caputo. Prior to the pandemic, Caputo’s sold wholesale ingredients to over 300 foodservice establishments. However, once governmental orders began to shut down restaurants, Caputo’s was left with a massive amount of perishable items without a way to sell them.
“We had to adapt quickly,” said Caputo. “We started bringing in food from our restaurant distributor businesses and offering it to our employees to eat.” With the leftover items, Caputo’s begun creating artisan support packs, bundles of various specialty food items that customers could purchase to help support foodservice companies that were suffering.
It was wildly successful. “At first, it looked like we’d be on the hook for $200,000 worth of spoilage, but in the end, we only had to write off $3,000 of food waste at the time,” Caputo said.
In another pivot, Caputo’s brought it’s in-person chocolate and cheese tasting and pairing classes online. “Our classes were big before the shutdown, so we decided to start doing Zoom classes. We mail the product to people’s doors ahead of time and include shipping in the cost of the classes,” Caputo noted. Being able to expand its classes beyond the citizens of Salt Lake City has brought in much needed extra revenue for the retailer.
Doing the Right Thing
Another thing that has served Caputo’s well is the retailer’s dedication to honesty and equality. “We found that trying to put a smiley face on all the time isn’t necessarily the way,” said Caputo. “Using your position to share your beliefs and values, I think it’s our obligation to do so.”
Throughout the months of social unrest across the U.S., Captuo’s spoke out against the injustices, which, in the conservative state of Utah, was a controversial move. The retailer got a lot of feedback, both good and bad, but it stuck to its position and is currently working on several initiatives for social and economic justice.
In addition, Caputo’s employees were tested day in and day out when consumers came in without masks, which are required by the retailer. “These are very difficult conversations, and to have it 15 to 20 times a day, and keep a welcoming environment and a smile on your face? I’ll never forget how hard they worked,” said Caputo.
Despite all of this, the community has been instrumental in keeping Caputo’s open during the pandemic. “No matter how hard we worked to pivot, none of it would have mattered if the community didn’t show up. And they did,” said Caputo.