Cammie Chatteron chats about mentoring, labor shortages and more (PHOTOS)

Cammie Chatterton established Bay Food Brokerage in 1993. The company has since grown to 43 employees and had revenue of $9.1 million in 2021, with projected revenue of $10 million to $11 million in 2022.

As Chatterton prepares to take a (small) step back from her chief executive officer duties, the next generation—her only son, Chris Chatterton—is prepared to step into the main leadership role of the business.

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Chatterton in front of a live audience at Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research in Tampa. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity.

Would you to talk about some of the fun things that have happened since you and Chris were on the cover of TBBW?

Well, first of all, it’s been a wonderful experience. So, thank you so much. And for your team. You’re just wonderful. Chris wanted me to tell everyone that he’s very sorry that he couldn’t be here tonight. I bought a trip for Christmas for him and his father, four years ago, for a father-son trip to Scotland to play St. Andrews and this little thing happened called COVID. So, it got canceled four times and this was the only week this year that they could play.

There’s been just an outpouring of congratulations from the industry that I’m in. Most of the clients are not here in Tampa Bay. But just it’s just been a wonderful outpouring of love and support. I couldn’t appreciate it enough.

You told me something else on Monday, too.

Yes, I found out last week that I was unanimously voted to the board of trustees of Jesuit High School, the only female [at a Catholic school for boys]. So I’m very excited about that. I just absolutely love Jesuit High School. Chris went there and it’s just a phenomenal school. And I was so honored.

One of the things you spoke about in your interview was mentoring and how important it was to you. We didn’t have space to include that part of the discussion in the story.

I started in my industry in 1985 and there were no females in the protein side of my industry, which is my expertise. There’s a conference every year that sounds real sexy, “the meat conference.” When I first started going, I was like, literally, the only female in a room of about 800 men. Now there’s about 1,400 people that attend, and there’s about 30 of us ladies.

I witnessed my mother, and her friends, working so hard to break that glass ceiling or even to reach to the glass ceiling. And it just didn’t happen. I was very lucky.

I had parents who, from an age as early as 4 and 5, told me I could be anything I wanted in this world. I was blessed because most parents weren’t saying that in the ’60s. As I came up and started working in the industry, I saw that there were no women, and I mean, the way I was treated, let’s be honest, the things that happened, people would lose their jobs for today.

It was just the good old boy system. I don’t want other women to have to go through that. I don’t want my granddaughter to have to go through anything like I went through. I want her to know that she can be absolutely anything she wants to be. Yes, women need to lift up women, but strong men need to lift women up too.

One of the things we spoke about the other day was staffing shortages. What’s going on?

Well, I wish I had the answer. For the most part, labor is a problem in every industry. But it’s not labor just on producing the food. It’s the packaging. We have manufacturers that will produce the food and then the manufacturer who does the packaging doesn’t have labor to produce the packaging so then the food can’t be sold at the store. You have trucking issues where they may make it and trucks are supposed to pick it up, but the truck never arrives. There are so many issues, but it all comes down to labor. A year ago, I would have told you by first quarter 2022, we would be pretty well back to normal in our industry.

We’re nowhere close. I was so wrong. If I were to guess, I would now say middle 2023. Say you have 10 items on the shelf at a manufacturer and three of them are big sellers. And the other seven are peripheral items. They’re not making those seven peripheral items and only making the three big sellers.

This is a great opportunity for the smaller manufacturers to step up. It’s easy for the big guys to just cut out items because they know that they will keep their customers, but this is a great opportunity for the small guy to step up and really get into the stores and get in that niche item that they haven’t been able to in the past.

There are weird things that are happening. Yesterday, they announced a big Jif recall. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of a peanut butter recall before.

There have been some, but nothing to this extent, it’s due to the plant. When certain antigens get into a plant manufacturing facility, such as listeria, they often have to take the plant down, literally, to the studs and rebuild it. Because you can’t get it out, no matter what you do. No matter how much cleaning you do, you cannot get certain bacteria out of a plant.

My background is with proteins, chicken, beef and pork, all of those. You’ve heard of A1 influenza, or you may have heard it called bird flu. I pulled the USDA stats this afternoon because every morning and afternoon, I get an update. So far, since this started in March, 34 million chickens and turkeys have had to be euthanized.

It’s sad, but that’s why eggs are $10 a dozen. That’s why at Thanksgiving, anybody who wants a big turkey, better buy it now because there’s not going to be any big turkeys in the stores.

[In] March 2020, when the world went crazy, I thought, “Oh, how can it get any worse?” The food supply in the last few months has gotten worse, instead of better, because, I don’t know if anyone knows this, but the U.S. government protects us all with our food supply. There are billions of pounds of food put in cold storage facilities across the country for pandemics, hurricanes and national disasters.

At the start of COVID, we had all of that supply to pull from. The problem is as we used all of the supply and the manufacturers have not been able to keep up producing more to put back into that inventory. They’re just producing what is needed day to day. So now we don’t have that extra inventory to pull from and that’s why your Ruffles, or a specific cut of chicken, may not be able to be found.

When do you think it’s going to be over with and what do you think we should do to protect ourselves and our families in the meantime?

I would say from everything that I’m seeing, we are getting better. I have to stress that things are getting better. I believe we’ve got another year to go before we’re back to what’s normal. I’m not really sure that the old normal will be the new normal anymore.  ♦

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