2020: The Year in Review

Without using the word “unprecedented” we would like to offer you a retrospective of the eventful year that was 2020. It’s been a time of challenge in which our community has drawn together. We are proud of, and inspired by, the response we’ve seen from our farmers and ranchers, our restaurant and retail clients, our home cooks, and our D’Artagnan staff. On the eve of 2021, we want to wish you a happy and healthy New Year. Whatever it holds, we will be here to help you eat well.

2020 began in a festive mood as D’Artagnan celebrated our 35th anniversary in late February with a fête magnifique in NYC followed up with our 6th Annual Cassoulet War.

Our theme was “freedom” and we love to wear costumes. Watch a short video with highlights from the party.

We had barely caught our collective breath from all the celebrating when the news of the pandemic came to the fore. And in March the lockdown began.

The first sign things were going to very different was the rush on chicken! Many grocery stores called because they couldn’t restock the shelves fast enough as customers shopped to fill their freezers and fridges.

Our staffers were declared essential workers because of the role we play in feeding people. Our warehouses hummed 24/7 and we adapted strict CDC guidelines for social distancing, mask-wearing, cleaning, and air quality to keep everyone safe. Hats off to all of our team members – they are still working hard to keep the good food coming.

The Pivot

The Wall Street Journal called it the “Pandemic Pivot” in an April 14th article that discussed what D’Artagnan and other businesses did to absorb the shock of the shutdown.

A large percentage of our business serves the best restaurants across the nation, and as they shut down our concern grew. Not only do restaurants employ millions of people (15.6 million according to these restaurant stats), but they also serve a lot of food from American farms. Very quickly we recognized that the small farms that supply D’Artagnan – and all the farms in the country – were in a precarious position. D’Artagnan is part of the food chain, and we worked to hold our link strong – to support the farmers and get their food to people at home and to the grocery stores while restaurants were closed.

In April, we launched a temporary home delivery program to many towns in the Tri-State near our New Jersey headquarters, in order to help people stay safe at home. Andy Wertheim, President of D’Artagnan, was inspired to create this supportive solution, and personally shepherded the program and piloted it in his own community. Our refrigerated trucks, normally dispatched to restaurants up and down the East Coast, instead delivered fresh meat to families in their homes. We made new friends in many towns as a result.

New Products

To meat – sorry, meet – the demand of home cooks across the country we launched a lot of new products at dartagnan.com. We also updated the look of our website and made it easier to navigate and select tasty items.

A whole line of grass-fed beef, more Wagyu beef, and bacon – thick-cut bacon, mini slab bacon, bacon ends and pieces, hotel bacon! – and an epic Angus beef standing rib roast. There were more obscure restaurant cuts like veal hip, lamb belly, skirt steak, short ribs, heritage pork cuts like shanks, shoulder, and belly, and lots of chicken cuts – our exclusive Green Circle™ was the definite winner. In fact, 2020 could be called The Year of the Chicken because we sold so much of it. We have a little blog recap of the top 10 new items here and you can find new products here.

Grocery Store Heroes

Our retail partners worked tirelessly to keep their shelves stocked, found creative and safe ways to serve their customers, and have been an inspiration to us all! At the grocery stores, we saw consumers embrace new products like game meats and other items that they would normally enjoy in a restaurant.

Judy Spires, CEO of KB US Holdings, the Delaware-based investment firm that owns the food retailers Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s Food Lover’s Markets  took some time to share lessons learned on the retail frontlines.

Restaurants Rise

So many of our restaurant clients were incredibly inventive and pivoted to takeout, creating to-go menus and even cook-at-home (also cocktails-at-home) kits to help recreate the dining-out experience that their customers sorely missed.

As some restaurants re-opened with outdoor dining, we noticed a trend toward comfort foods (we could all use some of that!) and in a seeming paradox, splurge items like Wagyu beef, foie gras, truffles, and caviar. After staying home and cooking everything themselves for weeks or months, patrons were thrilled to enjoy specialty items like these again.

Something else beautiful happened: people purchased t-shirts and hats from restaurants, booked pre-paid meals for the future, and gave gift certificates at the holidays – all to support their favorite local businesses through the shutdown. We were inspired by the outpouring of love to the restaurants and encourage everyone to continue their support of these pillars of the community. Restaurants are the beating heart of a city, economic engines that supply jobs and create spaces for culture, socializing, and pleasure. They are owned and staffed by people who are hospitable by nature and live to be of service.

This gorgeous example of the ultimate dinner-at-home kit came from Eleven Madison Park in NYC. In October they offered a limited number of these assemble-at-home dinners with our Green Circle Chicken at the center. The New York Times wrote about the Chef’s Roast Chicken Dinner, the proceeds of which Chef Daniel Humm donated to Rethink, a charity he helped found this past spring to feed the hungry.

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Photo: The New York Times

Giving Back

In May we did a fundraiser for Farm Aid – on Zoom – with some of our chef friends who saluted the small farmers by cooking – and voicing appreciation for – their products. We also donated to food rescue organizations that were feeding families in need, like Table to Table. On Giving Tuesday in December we donated a portion of all sales to No Kid Hungry.

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We got through 2020 – but we couldn’t have done it without our farmers and ranchers, our chefs and restaurateurs, our retailers and butchers, and all the people that fully engaged in cooking at home, discovered new things to try, attempted recipes they never would have, shared their triumphs with us on social media, and in calls to our customer service team. Here are a few highlights.

This was a year that challenged us all. In the true spirit of the Three Musketeers – All for one, one for all! – we got through it together, strengthened in places we were weak, softer in places we were hardened, and more determined to serve each member of our extended D’Artagnan family. We wish you and yours the very best of health and happiness in 2021!

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