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An annual showcase allows Parkhurst culinary team members and clients to meet Forged Partners participants and sample their wares.

Parkhurst Dining Forges ties with local partners

Forged Partners initiative gives smaller suppliers exposure to a wider audience.

“Know Your Source,” a commitment Parkhurst Dining has made to responsible purchasing, takes on new meaning with the latest phase in the initiative, Forged Partners.

As such, Parkhurst accounts have carved out some retail shelf space to promote artisan food and beverage suppliers, all designated “Forged Partners.” Each supplier has been carefully vetted by Jamie Moore, the company’s director of sourcing and sustainability, and must meet these criteria:

  • Complete compliance with Parkhurst sourcing and culinary standards
  • Family owned and operated
  • Products must be unique and noticeably differentiated
  • Products must be stocked by at least one of the company’s current distributors or the ability to be shipped throughout Parkhurst’s client network.

Parkhurst introduced Forged Partners to its culinary team and site managers in July 2018 at an interactive food showcase, which is now an annual event. The showcase provided the small business owners a chance to tell their own story and offer samples of their products. A group of Parkhurst chefs also created a video that introduced the program to clients and guests.

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Hope’s Cookies are a popular choice in the Forged Partners program.

Parkhurst clients chose their own assortment of items from a catalog curated by the purchasing team. Categories include coffee and other beverages, snacks, baked goods, meat, pastries, sweets and more. “Every account that we operate has different tastes and preferences, which means the possibilities are endless,” Moore says.

Forged Partners was officially launched in December 2018. The partners’ products get special treatment in the retail environment, with merchandising aids that create a compelling story and are designed to drive sales. Each month, sites spotlight one item at the point of sale, with signage that details the story behind the vendor and the product, and why the ingredients or production process matter. Shelf tags call out the other products supplied by the network of partners, providing a seal of approval. The signs, which reinforce the “know where your food comes from” philosophy, also explain the general principle: “Forged Partners are carefully selected, family-owned businesses that share our values and passion for food. We love supporting these partners as they forge their own paths within this industry.”

To drive awareness and create personal connections with guests, chefs and vendors have teamed up to host onsite tasting events.

In the first year, these products have emerged as the best-sellers:

  • Righteous Felon (West Chester, Pa.): all natural, locally sourced Black Angus beef jerky and meat sticks
  • Lenka Bars (Yoe, Pa.): small-batch granola bars made daily
  • Mouth party Caramels (Timonium, Md.): soft gourmet caramels hand made with five simple ingredients
  • Hope’s Cookies (Bryn Mawr, Pa.): award-winning cookies without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Legally Addictive (New York): cracker cookies

Parkhurst laid the groundwork for Forged Partners in 2002, when the company launched FarmSource, an initiative to seek and build relationships with exceptional farmers, producers and artisans within a 250-mile radius of a Parkhurst account. Over that time, Moore and his team have developed a vast network of like-minded, innovative and passionate entrepreneurs and discovered new, creative, premium goods that they sensed would be popular with guests. Typically the suppliers were smaller concerns with limited exposure to broader markets.

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Retail merchandising materials call out Forged Partners products.

Moore saw that Parkhurst, as a family-owned company, had an opportunity to help these artisan producers find a way to reach a larger audience—to literally forge their way through a crowded marketplace—while also providing Parkhurst’s clients with something unique. Because these are packaged goods, the 250-mile radius rule doesn’t apply. And if businesses don’t already have a distribution channel, Parkhurst will help them find a distributor. Some producers simply rely on daily UPS or FedEx shipments, but “distribution is never a barrier to partnership,” Moore says.

While retail is the primary focus of Forged Partners, “our culinary teams have really embraced Forged Partners,” says Mark Broadhurst, chief operating officer. “They recognize the value of being able to order unique, artisan products from family-owned businesses that they otherwise may not have known about if not for the program.”

One Pittsburgh-area account, for instance, frequently hosts high-end events; the executive chef at that location has been able to make them more special by employing artisan products he discovered through the Forged Partners program. Business meetings at this site serve Iron Star Roasting coffee, feature Hope’s Cookies on the dessert bar and showcase Parma Sausage meats on charcuterie platters.

“These products help to create differentiated experiences that elevate the meal for guests and enhance the relationship with our client—all while supporting family-owned businesses,” Broadhurst says.

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