Quality food distributors and purveyors are essential to your business. Regulations have been added to enforce the safe consumption of food, but some poor purveyors still slip through the cracks. Here are some ways to choose and deal with quality distributors and purveyors.
Reputation. Some of the best ways to find quality suppliers is to study your competition and ask other business owners. Who do they recommend? Who don’t they recommend? Who delivers on time? Who consistently provides the best product? Look and ask around and learn from others’ experiences and mistakes.
Learn payment terms. Compare prices between distributors. Larger customers with massive buying power are typically given better payment terms, but some companies are more lenient than others. Mom-and-pop stores and new accounts are usually given stricter time frames to pay, say five to ten days, and stricter fees, such as late-payment. So make your payments, and make them on time. You do not want a good distributor to cancel your account or have a collector come to your business demanding money in front of your customers.
Delivery Schedule. Make sure they can work around your schedule. If they want to deliver your meat order at 5 PM and your unionized-butcher starts his shift at 1 PM, then you just lost 4 hours of labor. Likewise, avoid deliveries during busy periods and avoid overlapping deliveries (the bread guy will not be happy waiting a half hour for the dairy guy to drop his shipment off).
Minimum Orders. You should not have to over-purchase to meet a minimum order. Purchase only what you need to meet your customers needs. You may not have the storage space and you definitely don’t want spoiled or expired goods. It is not uncommon for a large purveyor to not deliver if an order is below a certain amount, say $500.00, so you may be forced to used a smaller purveyor.
Fees. Ask distributors for a sample of fees. Purveyors may or may not charge for these, but here’s some ballpark numbers. Fuel surcharge, usually $5 to $20. Split case fee, they charge by the pound or by the piece. Below the minimum order, between $25 – $100. Off delivery day, around $50.
Have multiple purveyors. Even if they guarantee you products, they may not always have it. If you have two or three produce purveyors, you can compare prices, monitor specials, and be assured you have a backup supplier.
Tour the plant. If distributors do not want you to see the facilities that you are receiving your food from, then don’t risk doing business with them. They could be trying to hide an infestation problem, poor handling practices, unhygienic workers, or dilapidated facility.
Buy local when practical. There are many benefits to buying local, such as obtaining fresher products, faster delivery, and supporting your local community. But because of budget and preexisting contract obligations, I’ve seen accounts in Northern Maine’s potato country save money by purchasing from Idaho and Canada (they were actually cheaper). While it’s admirable to support your local community, you won’t be helping it by losing business because of high prices and having to lay off employees.
Inspect your distributor’s product upon delivery. Inspect everything you receive and make sure it is exactly what you ordered. Flip boxes of apples and oranges over to make sure there is no rotten produce hiding underneath good product. Look for signs of temperature abuse, water damage, ice crystals, and check the smell, color, etc. Reject anything you do not feel you should be paying for. Once you sign for it, you bought it. If you feel a distributor is trying to get away with something, use somebody else.
These are just some things to be aware of when choosing your distributor. Don’t feel intimated by the process. Remember, you are the customer. You would not purchase from an unfriendly or unprofessional restaurant or store, and this is no different. As long as they have competitors, they’ll want to give you the best service they can. Much more often than not, you will have the pleasure of doing business with fine distributors, both large and small, who go above and beyond to help you. To your success.