Foodservice operations refer to those businesses, institutions, and companies responsible for any meal prepared outside the home. This industry includes restaurants, school and hospital cafeterias, catering operations, and many other formats.
A vital link in the distribution chain is the foodservice distributor. Just like the distributor in the normal retail distribution chain, a food service distributor is a link between the manufacturer or the farm and the retailer, or in this case, the foodservice operator.
Who is a Foodservice Distributor?
A foodservice distributor functions as an intermediary between food manufacturers and the foodservice operator (usually a chef, food service director, food and beverage manager, and independent food preparation business operator owners.)
The distributor purchases, stores, sells, and delivers those products, providing foodservice operators with access to items from a wide variety of manufacturers. Foodservice distributors procure pallets and bulk inventory quantities that are broken down to case and sometimes unit quantities for the foodservice operator. Most foodservice operators purchase from a range of local, specialty, and broad-line food service distributors on a daily or weekly basis.
How to Connect with Foodservice Distributors’ Buyers
Just as with any foodservice operator, a buyer is a major player in the system. This is the person charged with the procurement of essential products. Thus, it is essential to try to connect with the buyer.
However, buyers always get tons of marketing emails, newsletters, coupons, calls, messages, and other forms of marketing thrown at them. Since they are the ones who decide what to get, they always have marketing targeted at them.
The implication of this is that it may be hard to get the attention of buyers. These are ways to get their attention and sell to them:
It goes beyond having the best products; you can have the best products, and no one would still know about them. This is why relationships are important. They are the springboard to pitching your products and selling them to customers.
You can build relationships by attending conferences. For instance, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Conference & Expo is an industry event that happens regularly. It is a good opportunity to meet new people and forge new industry connections. The reality is that great agricultural produce companies and their sales team know it’s important to build relationships with the people making purchasing decisions. We all like doing business with people we know and trust. Think about what more you can do to enhance relationships with the foodservice buyers.
And don’t restrict this to conferences and industry events; spend time with your prospects on golf courses, tennis courts, and parties.
You can add a twist to your approach at pitching to buyers. You can invite them to your farm. Let them experience where it all takes place. You may be surprised, but a lot of buyers have never been to the farm. Thus, it will make a good experience to walk between the rows and the ridges.
Talk about crop inputs like irrigation or crop protection products. Show them how you work to ensure food safety. Invite them to talk with your farmers, field workers, and harvest crews. Talk about harvest and packing innovation. Walk them through your packing houses, cold storage environments, and distribution centers.
It is also important to talk about the challenges of growing your product given climate change, water shortages, new threats to yield and quality, and how you’re dealing with the challenges from Mother Nature and beyond. Growing, packing, and shipping produce is not easy, and your customers need to know how you’re dealing with endless challenges to bring safe, high-quality products to market.
Every business needs solutions to make its work easier and faster. More, there is a constant need to reduce or remove those things that waste resources. This is an aspect you can explore. If you have an innovative solution to saving cost, increasing the shelf-life of products, increasing productivity, or any other thing, you should put it forward.
With this, you take a step above the normal manufacturer who wants to just sell products. Moreover, it is a mistake constantly made by manufacturers to think that the only thing the buyer cares about is price. There is a lot more than price in the mix. Everyone is looking for new solutions to help do business better.
Things to Take Note of When Selling to Distributors
The food service industry is highly competitive. Consumer trends, industry consolidation, and regulatory changes all have an impact on your business.
Local and healthy products are currently on-trend, and foodservice buyers are increasingly sourcing them from local companies. You should keep on track of all these and see how you can pivot when faced with new systems.
Ensure your product fits into the foodservice distributor’s product offerings. Some foodservice distributors offer an extensive product catalog; others focus on specific categories such as alcoholic beverages, frozen foods, or produce.
Do your research to know those who carry your products and those who don’t. You can use the opportunity to pitch to those who don’t yet carry your products.
Food safety is highly important to foodservice distributors. Most foodservice distributors require that products are processed in an approved facility. Generally, the larger the foodservice distributor, the more rigorous the food safety requirements. Large, national, and multinational companies require that their suppliers have federally recognized Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs in place. Smaller foodservice distributors may accept provincially recognized food safety programs.
UPC and ECCnet
UPC, Universal Product Codes, are used for inventory control throughout the food industry and at point of sale at retail. UPC codes are required on both individual packages and on each case.
Larger foodservice distributors require that suppliers are registered with ECCnet. ECCnet is an online source of certified product information offering trading partners a single source of electronic data. Information contained in the ECCnet registry includes product details, nutrition facts, ingredients, common allergens, and product certifications.
Foodservice distributors use ECCnet information in electronic purchasing systems to populate product catalogs and e-commerce platforms.
It goes beyond pitching a product to sell to distributors. You need to put much more into personal relationships. You should also be looking at adding more value to your brand.