Steve Linkhart, CEO of CalFoods Logistics, believes that he possesses one quality that sets the tone for CalFoods Logistics. “When we hire a new team member, there are clear responsibilities that need to be accomplished. Once we hire, train, and let that person take the ownership of the job, we allow them to do their job,” he explains. “We are always there to assist of course, but I feel that people get a sense of ownership of their role when they are allowed to do so. Everyone has a role from being CEO to pulling or entering orders, everyone has their unique responsibilities, and the foundation is always customer service, without that, everything after is on shaky ground.” Steve feels that there isn’t a role here too big or too small for anyone to jump in and help. He has unloaded his fair share of trucks and pulled orders over the past 18 months and will be glad to do it again if needed. “Taking care of our team is of the utmost importance to me. We offer a living wage, amazing benefits, and time off for the team to have a good work/life balance.”
For Steve, his father-in-law is his role model, guiding him towards success. It has been great for the steadfast leader to have someone with such worldly knowledge who understands the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life. “There have been so many conversations with him throughout my career about knowing the current situation and as he puts it, “document everything.” When times were stressful or not so great, he always told me to remember who I am and to just be me and everything would work out the way it should. And to learn from not just the good events but the not-so-great events as well,” elucidates Steve. “This really taught me how to slow down and understand what’s going on before I react; this advice was a complete game-changer for me.”
An important leadership lesson learned by Steve is to be available to his team, and he wants to make sure that everyone is 100% comfortable. Work culture for CalFoods Logistics is everything, from feeling like an employee is wanted and appreciated to making sure that everyone is heard. Steve believes that they should have a comfortable, safe work environment whatever role someone has. “And a simple act like making sure we have fully stocked refrigerators when someone needs a snack or asking someone else’s opinion on something is a small but effective way to connect with people and build a culture by showing how you care.” Armed with this unique ideology, Steve took the company to new heights.
Building A Foundation
CalFoods Logistics was selected by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to be the new intermediary for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) effective January 1, 2021. They provide United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food commodities to 48 food banks in California. The food banks will then distribute to eligible individuals and households within 58 counties.
CalFoods Logistics delivers directly to 23 satellite food banks covering 30 counties every month. They also monitor direct deliveries from USDA to the remaining food banks serving the other 28 counties in the State. All in all, TEFAP providers serve approximately 1.7 million people every month.
According to Steve, food insecurity is a big challenge for California and all states. Food insecurity rates differ across States due to their populations’ characteristics and to State-level policies and economic conditions. The pandemic brought food insecurity to people that have never experienced it before. Food banks are seeing more new faces that need additional food assistance, and it’s not slowing down. CalFoods Logistics is at the head of the federal commodity program for California. They are responsible for ordering all the food for food banks and, also manage the State’s special food projects. “Over the past 18 months, we have shipped over 4 million emergency food boxes to food banks throughout the state. In addition, we were able to support several tribes located in more rural areas of the state.”
CalFoods Logistics has implemented the latest software to account for their inventory accurately. This allows them to track, ship, and deliver accurate shipments to some of the neediest areas in California. They continue to improve their system and are currently adding a barcoding order picking component to the system. This will allow CalFoods Logistics to be virtually paperless while maintaining accuracy. They have changed the conventional way of storing their data because all their data is in the cloud. “We don’t have onsite servers, which allows our staff to be able to access our information anywhere. This worked out great through the COVID-19 Pandemic and continues to be an important part of our operations.”
CalFoods Logistics is a little different from a conventional business, and they only really see competition when it comes to staffing and recruitment. “We truly value our team and do everything we can to recruit top talent and to retain the talent we currently have. We were recently certified as a Great Place to Work.”
Towards the Future
In an instance, when the State of California decided to make the shift to CalFoods Logistics as intermediary, there was a period of adjustment. CalFoods Logistics received over 200 truckloads of food almost overnight. The larger food banks that get direct ship weren’t as impacted, but the smaller food banks that get shipments from their warehouse saw the most change. The changes they implemented were the ability for the smaller satellite agencies to receive their orders when they wanted them; for some food banks, this wasn’t a big deal, but others welcomed the change. For many food banks, having the ability to select their own products was a major improvement. By allowing the food banks to choose their order, and delivery schedules rather than simply sending the shipments, CalFoods Logistics has demonstrated the value of service and collaboration.
With any new adventure, milestones happen daily. Getting their software system up while fully functional was a major win. In addition to CalFoods Logistics’ core responsibility of food distribution, they approached the food banks holistically and assessed their additional needs. How else can they help them? They were able to assist food banks with sourcing and purchasing hard-to-find equipment such as trucks, forklifts, pallet jacks, refrigeration, and trailers, to name a few items. These types of infrastructure items are critical to daily operations and capacity building at a food bank. Since many of the food banks did not have the resources to purchase the needed equipment, CalFoods provided the assistance to procure what was necessary. “We are here as an extension of our food bank partners, and when we can help them succeed, we win.”
Although CalFoods Logistics is relatively new, their mission is to be a bridge between the State of California and California Food Banks. By working collaboratively with all partners, CalFoods will demonstrate what is possible. They are expanding their delivery fleet and have added a commercial driver and a 48ft refrigerated trailer. CalFoods Logistics has two locations that are about 60 miles apart. One is their corporate office in Pleasant Hill, CA, and the other is their warehouse in Woodland, CA. “Our team is physically split in two. It’s tough to get all team members together at the same time, but we do monthly inventories and bring the entire team in to be hands-on with the inventory process when we can,” explains Steve. “We’ll use this opportunity for a potluck, or we’ll buy lunch, and everyone has a chance to socialize together as a team and reconnect. It’s a nice casual way to build a better team connection.”