4 Truths You Need to Know Before Talking to a Food Distribution Company

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This article was originally published via Event Planning – Blog by Cvent, an industry-leading platform of services that offers planners an all-in-one solution for researching, planning and managing events.

Many people experience a career-defining moment that sheds light on their true passion or calling. For me, this moment came after I took a job as a personal chef for fraternity and sorority chapters in Denver. I’d been in the restaurant industry for 10 years, gone to culinary school, and worked as the executive chef at a bistro.

I also took on the responsibility of ordering food, something I had experience with from my time at the bistro. I used the same sales rep and food distributor as my old job, but I noticed right away that the pricing was drastically higher.

When I asked my longtime sales rep why this was the case — especially when I was ordering roughly the same product volume — he replied, “Because we can get away with the high margins in the college and university sector.”

That answer bothered me and pushed me to do something about it. Since then, I’ve made a concerted effort to make a positive change in the pricing sector of the food industry.

Go in with your game face — however strong your organization, it’s more common than you’d think for food distributor companies to take advantage of clients’ naivete. To ensure you’re paying a fair price and getting the products you’re promised, keep these things in mind when talking to your food distributor rep:

You have other options. Many food sales reps want you to place orders directly through them and at their convenience. This way, they can control your spending and suggest items that you might not need but they’re looking to get rid of. Ask if they have online options for placing orders, searching for products, and budgeting so you can place orders on your own terms.

You don’t have to play the sales rep’s game. Sales reps can always reduce pricing if they think they might lose you as a customer or steal you away from a competitor. Don’t feel intimidated by a sales rep who seems confident; he or she needs your business and has the leverage to meet your demands, especially for products you buy a lot of.
Be aware of price inflation. You might get a certain price now, but there are always ways to override those discounts in other products down the road. Always keep track of all your purchases so you can notice if costs start rising. If something seems higher, ask why. Your rep might be hiding slight price increases over time.

Ask about aggregate purchasing options. If you have facilities throughout the country, it’s up to each division and the individual sales rep to dictate pricing (unless you’re under a previously negotiated manufacturing distribution agreement). Get to know your rep, and find out if there are aggregate options available to you.

Whether you’re purchasing food for chapter houses or a single event, its important to understand the power you hold when placing large orders through food distributors. Keep an eye on quality, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Ultimately, it boils down to providing quality food for the people you’re serving and minimizing the strain on your organization’s pocketbook.

Brian Heider is the president of Culinary Consultants, a purchasing solutions organization that’s devoted to fraternity, sorority, and food service management companies throughout the country that operate within the college and university market. Its core business is to help increase purchasing power while providing additional service benefits that help each client’s food program flourish.