Sysco finds success with 'farm to table' supplier strategy

By M.V. Greene

As global supply chains go, none may be more complicated than that of Sysco Corp., the Houston, Texas-based foodservice distributor whose fiscal year 2023 sales of $76.3 billion supports more than 71,000 employees worldwide.


Think about Sysco’s supply chain — which serves more than 700,000 customer locations through 300 distribution facilities globally in industries ranging from hospitality and restaurants to health care and education — and “farm to table” comes to mind.


“There are so many categories and so many suppliers that we work with. It’s a retail environment with many complexities that we need to support our global supply chain. It is a huge undertaking,” said Adrienne C. Trimble, vice president and chief diversity and culture officer.


Her mission in joining Sysco was to lead and help accelerate the company’s global efforts to create a more diverse workforce and equitable and inclusive culture, including for diverse suppliers.


Prior to joining Sysco, Trimble served as president and CEO of the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. (NMSDC) from August 2018 to March 2021, when she joined the food service behemoth. In addition to her tenure at NMSDC and Sysco, she has had a career steeped in supplier diversity and the broader diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) field.


Before NMSDC, Trimble was general manager for DEI at Toyota Motor North America Inc., and earlier served as the car manufacturing giant’s supplier diversity manager. In that role, she helped the company retain its position in the Billion Dollar Roundtable Inc. (BDR), where member companies commit to annual first-tier supply chain diversity spend of $1 billion or more.

So now, with Trimble also supporting Sysco’s supplier diversity efforts, her message to diverse suppliers seeking business in the foodservice industry brings resonance.


“There are so many opportunities for smaller and local suppliers to get engaged in (Sysco’s) supply chain,” she said. “Where we have the greatest opportunity is helping them learn how to work with a large distributor like a Sysco.”


Trimble said Sysco is eager to show capable diverse suppliers the ropes in foodservice – including helping them meet the company’s quality guidelines, while understanding the type of volume needed to support a major multinational like Sysco and how to create demand within its procurement system.


Darnell Greene, director of supplier diversity, works alongside Trimble and her team. 


“Diverse suppliers offer numerous advantages to foodservice distribution, ranging from innovation and cost savings to social responsibility and risk mitigation as companies move away from relying on a single source for products and services. Embracing inclusion in the supplier base can lead to a more competitive and sustainable business model.”


“We work to get them into our global supply chain and onto the tables of our customers and restaurants,” Trimble said. “It could be anything from something that is locally sourced to something that a small business is making that may be an ingredient that one of our customers like a restaurant is looking to procure.”


Expanding opportunities

Sysco’s FreshPoint division is North America’s largest wholly-owned produce distributor and works directly with restaurants and chefs to provide the ingredients for their culinary creations. Other divisions distribute custom meats, seafood, spices and imported foods. 


While farm to table is a key element of Sysco’s supply chain, Trimble notes that Sysco focuses on ensuring opportunities to procure from diverse indirect suppliers as well, including technology, warehousing, transportation, logistics and real estate. 


In building out Sysco’s DEI and supplier diversity strategy, she is leading a three-year strategic road map that is guiding the company’s objective to embed its priorities throughout the company globally. The road map is being implemented with the assistance of Sysco’s Global DEI Council and colleagues throughout the company.


Trimble credits Sysco President and CEO Kevin Hourican and the company’s board for “really pushing us to continue advancing and ensuring we are meeting goals.” Internally, the road map includes accountability measures for Sysco’s senior leaders to meet related to their oversight of DEI and supplier diversity.


“That makes a huge difference because it gives us the momentum that is needed to ensure that those goals are translating down into the organization,” she said.


Supplier diversity initiatives have been in place at Sysco since the mid-2000s but were largely focused on minority and women suppliers, Trimble said. Today, Sysco has expanded its supplier diversity footprint to include veteran-owned, disabled-owned and LGBTQ+-owned enterprises, working closely with third-party certification organizations, chambers of commerce and other partners to identify suppliers, she said.


“By doing that, we really were able to accelerate our efforts and expand our reach. We really broadened our efforts,” Trimble said, noting that Sysco has already met a goal to increase diversity spend by 25% by 2025. Another goal, she said, is to gain BDR membership in the near future as the first purely foodservice organization to join the elite group of major corporations.


In Trimble, Sysco has a veteran DEI and supplier diversity practitioner leading its efforts, but also someone regarded nationally as a thought leader and strategist. Given that background, she is asked often to weigh in on broader implications for DEI and supplier diversity.


For supplier diversity to continue as a corporate imperative with an undeniable value proposition amid recent legal challenges — including the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2023 decision effectively striking down the use of affirmative action in college admissions — Trimble said advocates, partners and professionals need to ensure they are accentuating the business case for the function.


Considering the Supreme Court’s decision, many are waiting to see how corporations will react going forward and whether they will dilute their programs, she said.


“We have to keep showing the economic impact when suppliers are given the opportunity to compete for contracts,” Trimble said. “At Sysco we will continue to live our values and demonstrate that a diverse workforce is a stronger workforce. Our ultimate goal is to have a workforce and customer base that matches the demographics of the communities we serve.”


To learn more about sysco, visit


Sysco Corp. Sysco supply chain Adrienne C. Trimble diversity equity and inclusion DEI NMSDC National Minority Supplier Development Council Toyota Motor North America Inc. Billion Dollar Roundtable BDR Darnell Greene FreshPoint Kevin Hourican

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