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Quality vs Quantity: The Challenges of a Food Wholesaler

Wholesalers play a major role in a food distribution network. They can be considered the hub of food distribution where producers rely on them to distribute food products to retailers that would be selling them to end consumers. Without wholesalers, food producers would have to take up the massive role of distribution, and it is neither an easy nor cheap responsibility to undertake.

The best food wholesalers can offer virtually limitless amounts of produce, complemented with an endless possibility of delivery options. The single biggest challenge of food wholesalers is managing costs. It is a problem that virtually all business entities face, but for food wholesalers there is less leeway and compromises to legally and morally “cheat” their way into saving money.

Fresh produce wholesalers are especially affected. Unlike most processed foods, produce such as fruits and vegetables have merely 4 to 5 days even when stored in proper refrigeration to remain at optimum quality. They are highly perishable foods that begin to degrade as soon as they have been harvested. Restaurants may keep produce in their walk-in coolers and pantries for up to 3 days. Some grocery stores too may face the same situation.

So it is imperative that fresh produce be delivered within 24 hours to customers. But, with today’s modern storage management and chilled transportation trucks that is the easiest part of the equation. The other is the balancing act between quantity and quality.

Economy of scale

Economy of scale is the heart of lower cost food production. The goal is to maximize yield for the same cost. It is largely the responsibility of the food producers to output as much food as possible for a minimal quantity. But, that too is increasingly becoming easier with modern farming and production techniques.

What can break this harmony is quality control. Things that are mass produced for cheap have a bad reputation for being sub-par in quality (however that depends on the definition of quality, more on that later). Most of it is all down to quality control - compromises made in quality in favour of quantity.

For wholesale agricultural products it is much the same. Crops that are harvested will undergo sorting and washing before being transported to wholesalers, retailers, or dining establishments. Transportation is brutal for most crops and is quite a labour intensive stage if done on a large scale. Crops can be damaged by rough handling by workers who load them, or simply be crushed by their own weight fro stacking large piles onto the truck. For especially fragile crops such as tomatoes, improper stacking can lead to some at the bottom of the pile being discarded.

This is an area where producers and suppliers can differentiate themselves from the competition. However, that privilege comes at a cost. Extra care in handling and packaging require more materials. The higher quality stacking solutions can also take up more of the precious cargo volume, and suppliers and distributors will compensate by deploying larger trucks which costs more to run.

Taken to higher levels, some of the crops may not even make the grade right from the farm. Either they are not the correct ripeness or simply not as aesthetically pleasing as the client wanted. As a result for a bit less output you get higher quality produce but for a higher per unit price.

But, the level of quality is quite relative. The best wholesale food suppliers take the nature of their clients’ business into account to balance their needs of quality and quantity. They relay that need to the food producers of which they source their products from. Not all entities in the food industry require the same level of quality control. For the most part it may even be quite wasteful to have such high standards when you have no need for them. You can ponder about that when you are choosing the best food supplier for your restaurant.

Adapting to customer needs

Restaurants and grocery stores generally have higher standards when it comes to quality. They tend to pick the best produce supplier not just for their supply reliability, but also quality. Grocery stores are more notorious for being picky. As the produce is displayed in their stores, aesthetics play a major role in getting the produce to sell. Wilted leafy greens, bruised apples, soft spots on tomatoes, they are usually put to the side when customers are hand-picking from the fresh food aisle. While still perfectly safe, edible, and technically as fresh, they lose out to those that are easier on the eyes.

Restaurants on the other hand have a bit of leeway in terms of how the produce may look. The preparation and cooking of the produce can mask almost all of its previous texture and aesthetic flaws. In many cases the taste is indistinguishable. More premium establishments however would still demand the best produce that have been treated with care and carefully selected from the start.

This is another approach where some of the best produce wholesalers can differentiate themselves from their competition. They are more willing to learn more about their prospective clients and put in the effort to give them the best rates without always peddling for the premium.

If you are looking for the best food supplier for your restaurant the best way to make an assessment is to contact your local wholesaler for a consultation.