U.S. military veteran racking up huge sales, impressive awards
Many of the elite business leaders in the world didn’t find ultimate success until they entered an uncomfort zone.
Case in point: Plymouth resident Eric Ouellette, co-founder and chief executive officer of Semper Foods, a food-distribution company that was recently recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the country’s top workplaces and as one of the fastest-growing privately-owned companies in the United States.
A former enlisted United States Marine, who served his country during some of the most-turbulent periods in Iraq, was living a good life in Boston, Massachusetts in early-2018 when two friends approached him about helping them launch a food-distribution company.
Ouellette paid homage to his Marine background by including Semper in the company’s name.
“The Marine motto is Semper Fi — always faithful — so I thought Semper Foods was a great name,” he said.
Comparing Semper Foods to food-distribution giants like Sysco, Ouellette said his company is kind of like the T.J. Maxx of the industry.
“Let’s say there is a chicken breast going down the line that isn’t exactly four ounces — say it’s only 3.8 ounces — so it doesn’t meet the specs of McDonald’s,” Ouellette said. “They put it in what is called Box 2. We purchase this wholesome, nutritious food — that would otherwise be, in a lot of cases, thrown out — for pennies on the dollar and sell it to places like food banks and restaurants that need good, inexpensive food for a huge discount compared to what they’d pay to the big distribution companies.
“It feels good because we’re not only helping food banks and smaller restaurant owners, but we’re helping reduce the food-waste problem in this country.”
Ouellette said the pandemic hit food banks hard, making his company’s reduced-price offerings even more significant.
“The pandemic created a situation where people who never thought they’d need help with food ended up needing help with food,” he said. “For instance you have a person who’s worked at IBM for 20 years making $80,000 a year, then they lose their job because of the pandemic, putting a greater strain on food banks. We sell millions of pounds of wholesome, nutritious food to food banks every week.”
Semper Foods’ recipe for success has produced mouth-watering returns for Ouellette and his 25-person company. Its revenue grew from $12.5 million in 2018 to an expected year-end revenue of $25 million to $30 million in 2022.
TREATMENT OF EMPLOYEES KEY
Perhaps the primary reason for Semper Foods’ growth is the way it treats its employees, Ouellette emphasized. Confirmation of which was also recently won by Semper Foods as they received the Inc. Best Workplaces award for 2022 as well.
The Semper team views these acknowledgements as validation of their hard work, not only towards financial success, but also in their efforts towards building a team that their customers can be proud of doing business with.
Ouellette said the high level of treatment he shares with his employees stems from an earlier situation he encountered when his employer charged him $250 per day (he had used his personal-time-off hours) for sitting by his gravely-ill father’s bedside.
“We treat our people the way we want to be treated,” Ouellette said. “If one of your kids is sick, take the day off with pay. If you’re moving, take the day off with pay. Since 2018, we have not had any employees voluntarily leave. People want to work here and when people love their workplace, that transcends into every area of the company.”
“When we’re interviewing potential employees and I tell them about our plan, I can tell they think I’m exaggerating or making false promises. But inevitably, a month later, they’ll come up to me and say, ‘Everything you promised is true’.”
Ouellette said Semper Foods’ implementation of high-end technology is what sets it apart from competitors.
“I tell people we’re a technology company that sells food,” he said. “Some of our competitors are still writing out sales orders on paper. Everything we do is automated, making it super-efficient.”
As he spoke, a wall-mounted monitor in his office provided real-time statistics on his sales staff’s efforts and accomplishments — offering proof of what he stated.
HAPPY TO BE ALIVE
A turning point in Ouellette’s life came when his Marine regiment was leaving Iraq and their plane was refueling in Ireland. He admitted his stint in the Middle East was turbulent, resulting in a still-lingering back injury and bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When I was sitting in that plane, I was just happy to have made it out alive; a lot of my friends didn’t make it,” he recounted. “I told myself in that moment that I was going to make something of my life.”
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