Made in Georgia: Home delivery saved family meat and seafood firm

You could say that Kirk Halpern was born to be a purveyor of food. His maternal grandfather, Harry Sturm, operated American Fruit Purveyors in the Depression era. His father, Howard Halpern, opened American Food Purveyors in 1956, and the younger Halpern remembers getting up at 3 in the morning to help load trucks.

Kirk Halpern started his own company, Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors, in 2019, with his son Ben. Then, the pandemic arrived.

“On March 19, 2020, that one day, I lost 97 percent of my customers,” Halpern said. “My inventory was going to be upside down, my receivables were very shaky, and how could I support my employees?”

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Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

Over the course of 13 hours, he pivoted into home delivery. “I pulled into my driveway and my wife Lori was helping five of her friends with meat and seafood from our plant,” he said. “I wanted to extend that service to the community, and so we started supplying meat and seafood to homeowners afraid to go into the stores, or who, if they did go into stores, were facing empty shelves.”

He kept all his employees, with no furloughs, and no reduction in pay or benefits. He also was able to hire some of their family members, who were without work.

“The refrigerated Mercedes Sprinter vans I had purchased were just what we needed to go into neighborhoods,” Halpern said, “and the lightweight packaging we designed meant that the weight of what we were delivering would not be a barrier to hiring delivery drivers.”

Halpern expanded his offerings, so he could support other operators who also were navigating through COVID-19. He added such items as prepared side dishes from Atlanta caterer Proof of the Pudding, which had seen its events business come to a halt. He drove to farms around the Southeast to purchase crops.

Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

“In my mind, leadership to get through what was happening was going to come from small businessmen like me who put their heads down and figured out how to do it,” he said. “I felt everything in my life prepared me for that moment, even though I had no experience in home delivery.”

The company delivered food with no minimum order size and no delivery fee. He found customers through writing a press release and then sending it out to contacts via his phone.

“I reached out to my accountant, who forwarded the press release to all her employees, who forwarded it to their friends and community associations,” Halpern said. “Our story was picked up by WSB-TV, and the phones went crazy.”

Going from an invoice-based business to one that sold directly to consumers meant the company had to adapt, and take credit cards. The Halperns had to develop a website that made it easy for customers to order online. It was a process of continually learning and adapting.

That included adapting to the changing world. “My strength in the market is my ability to move faster than anyone else,” Halpern said.

His short-term pandemic business model was to provide a service to the community, he said, “but we had to operate profitably. As things reopened, we changed our product line to remove things people no longer needed. Higher fuel costs meant we needed to add a delivery fee.”

Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

Credit: Courtesy of Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors

The product line and services continue to evolve. Halpern is flying in fresh lamb from Australia, Patagonian salmon from Chile, and branzini from Turkey. The number of food service customers has rebounded, to make up 85 percent of his business.

The company’s delivery area has expanded, to include greater Atlanta, Athens, Macon, LaGrange and Auburn, Alabama, plus along the East coast, from Georgia to North Carolina.

Halpern said the next step is to ramp up home delivery on a national scale, including offering a fresh kosher seafood program.

“If you live in Salt Lake City, there are not many great kosher options,” he said.

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