Choosing the right wholesale food supplier can be quite the conundrum when you have your livelihood depending on it. Even as an end consumer occasionally looking for bulk buying can have a hard time finding a food wholesaler they can stick to for whenever the need arise.
While searching for the best wholesale food supplier is easier said than done, there are some ways to narrow down your selection and find one with the right qualities. But first let us delve a bit deeper into what a wholesaler is and what they could do.
What is a wholesaler?
When you are buying from grocery stores that is a retail purchase. Wholesale on the other hand are usually bought directly from the supplier. Wholesalers usually deal in “B2B” or business-to-business but may also sell to regular customers looking to purchase in bulk. Wholesalers would only sell in larger quantities because it lowers the unit prices. How does that work? I’m sure every now and then you’ve heard of the term economies of scale.
Economies of scale is all about efficiency. You want to produce as much of the product as you can while expending very little resources. Let’s take an example of a small urban farmer - ones that plant their own vegetables in their back garden. You can get a packet of seeds that can yield over 50 heads of lettuce for just RM1. Realistically that’s the upper limit for residential areas with a decent lot size. You would think this is quite the cost effective business model. RM1, generous amounts of water (and we are lucky to have them cheap), and 6 weeks later you get 50 heads of lettuce you can sell for a sizable profit.
This “micro farm” however won’t be able to sell as cheaply compared to even the smallest commercial farm for a comparable profit margin. Commercial farms can yield hundreds of lettuces every day. They have the ability to cycle their crops thanks to their relatively large land area. For what you spend to grow 50 lettuce heads in a single batch a small farm can deliver twice as much, every day. However, if they were to sell a significantly small amount compared to their yield the lettuce would be very expensive. All the expense of a farm land to supply for a single small wet market is hardly a sustainable business model. It’s a rather crude example, but that is how in simple terms how it works.
This is why bulk buying is the only way for you to get cheaper per unit prices (which you can then add more value and markups for your own profit and growth). This is also why customers should respect the minimum order quantity wholesalers require. This brings us on to our first point in how to choose the best wholesaler.
How much do you need?
It doesn’t matter if you are running a business or simply looking to save on stocking up supplies, anyone can buy wholesale. What limits your option is the amount you can buy. Some wholesale food suppliers have strict minimum order quantities that are too large for small restaurants to handle. If cost is not an issue then storage and handling might be.
There are wholesalers that can sell a relatively small amount for bulk purchasing. Usually for a small increase in per unit prices however. But, that is a small price to pay for ease of handling and easier quality control. It could also be a more sensible and cost-effective approach depending on the quality and value you add which may justify the extra cost.
Those who are practicing higher quality standards but don’t have the revenue for advanced storage facilities may also opt for more frequent smaller deliveries. Contrary to popular belief food wholesalers do have a high degree of care for quality and exercise good food safety standards. They have storage facilities that can keep their products fresh and safe until it reaches your kitchen. This then brings us on to the second point on how to choose the best wholesale food supplier.
When we say local we mean as close to you as possible. Whenever possible choose one that is located within a reasonable driving distance to your area. This has several advantages.
The logistical ease would be the first obvious advantage. Deliveries can be done quicker, and as mentioned before can also be done more frequently if needed.
Another advantage would be the ease of contact. Talking to a sales representative face-to-face is the quickest and most efficient way of arranging a deal. A wholesaler sales rep knows first hand their suppliers’ capabilities and product range. Arranging a custom order can be done more swiftly - often in a single day - when dealing with the company in the flesh.
Speaking of custom orders, you may find a wholesaler you like that can’t deliver one or two of the items you request. You can’t always expect say a primarily fruits supplier to also deliver eggs and poultry. While some food wholesalers strive to be as diverse as they can ultimately they all have their “specialties”. Bansan Penang for example has a great selection of fruits and vegetables that comes from their own farm as well as others. They provide a wide array of local and “foreign” fruits and vegetables. Others closer to the shore may offer a wide variety of local seafood.
Choosing local may not be an option in some cases. Thus it brings us to our final point in how to choose the best food supplier.
What foods do you make?
Quite obvious but definitely one you should put a bit more scrutiny on. You would be looking for wholesalers that can supply you with the food stuff you need to make the food you will be offering to your customers. If you’re running a strictly Western themed restaurant that focuses on authenticity then some of your local wholesalers may not be able to provide.
All hope is not lost if you still want the advantages of dealing with a local supplier. There may be local wholesalers that imports the more “exotic” ingredients that you’re after. As the wholesalers themselves may have limited stock, per unit prices may still be a bit higher compare to more local products.
Those adhering to the local palate will have a much easier time looking for food suppliers. Demands for local food will naturally be higher, and so the local suppliers are well conditioned to meet those demands. Some fruits and vegetables may be seasonal and can run out, but your typical staple produce is available all year round in abundance.
You may find yourself needing to find multiple food suppliers. Fruit and vegetable wholesalers are very rarely able to also supply you with prime beef cuts or seafood. Depending on where you are in the country you may be lucky enough to find a healthy diversity of produce wholesalers within a small radius. For example, Penang is a small state and densely populated. It also has a healthy agricultural and commercial fishing industry. If you are in an area like this you are spoiled for choices.
Then finally it all comes down to finding a reputable wholesaler with good history. To know for sure all you need to do is ask.
Don’t be shy to ask your local businesses, especially those that are well-established. If the business has a great relationship with the supplier then it must be a good one. Ask a few and you will probably find that some of them have a common supplier. That is a good sign that the supplier is reliable.
Bansan Penang is well known among Penangites and have years been delivering produce to households around the island. It is now also a wholesale distributor of fruits and vegetables with a good supply network. Contact them for more information.