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A Guide to the Types of Food Service Distribution

A Guide to the Types of Food Service Distribution

Food service distribution is a complex, essential industry that our country relies on daily. Food and drink sales totaled about $876.33 billion in 2021, and there are more avenues than ever to get food onto people’s plates. If you operate a restaurant, store, catering company, hospital or any other facility that serves food, knowing how to choose a food service distributor is vital.

Partnering with a food distributor has countless benefits for your business. Still, you need to know what to look for in any potential provider.

What Is a Food Distributor?

A food distributor bridges the gap between food suppliers and consumers by providing food and related supplies from points of origin such as farms, orchards and manufacturers to customer-facing businesses like stores and restaurants. In essence, food distributors link two vital areas of expertise — producers and sellers.

As intermediaries, food distributors buy from the sellers in bulk, warehouse these products and break them down into accessible amounts. They then transport the food to the operators for resale in a restaurant or store. As you can see, food distributors play a critical role in getting food into homes, restaurants and anywhere else people eat.

The Four Primary Types of Food Distributors

While working with a food distributor has many benefits, knowing the different types and the specific needs they serve is essential to saving you time, stress and money. Like many other businesses, food service distributors come in many shapes and sizes, from large multinational organizations to one-truck operations. There are four main types of food distribution businesses.

1. Cash and Carry

A cash-and-carry food distributor combines a classic food distributor and a wholesaler. Instead of delivering food and associated products to vendors, they keep their products in a warehouse, and customers buy what they need. Many nonprofits, caterers, small food operators and restaurant supply businesses operate within this model.

2. Redistributors

Unlike cash-and-carry distributors, redistributors don’t directly sell to food service operators. Instead, as their name suggests, they purchase bulk quantities from the manufacturers and supply them to other distributors who only handle smaller amounts.

These smaller distributors supply local, individually owned food service operations that don’t purchase from larger-scale businesses because they need less product volume. Though it may sound like redistributors add an unnecessary step in the food distribution chain, they enable smaller businesses to operate, fulfilling an essential role in the market.

3. Specialty Distributors

Specialty distributors have the supply chain, food safety skills and niche expertise to serve a particular market. They may specialize in a specific food, like seafood, or cuisine, like Mediterranean.

A specialty distributor will carry all the necessary food and food-related products to stock restaurants or stores. Buyers might work with a distributor like this to get hard-to-find ingredients or prevent the risk of cross-contamination in specialized markets, such as halal, kosher and vegan catering companies and restaurants.

4. Broadline Distributors

Broadline distributors are well-represented throughout the United States. What is broadline food distribution? It involves handling large volumes and product ranges. These distributors cater to large retail chains, restaurants and organizations such as hospitals. Working with a broadline distributor has several advantages, including price advantages for bulk buys. They have a massive inventory to choose from.

Manufacturers benefit from having a wider reach and experts marketing their wares. Smaller operators may join forces to buy larger quantities with bulk discounts.

How to Choose a Food Service Distributor for Your Business

There are several considerations when looking for a food service company to supply your business. An excellent food distributor will do more than deliver your orders. They will help you strategize and create exciting ways to stand out in your industry. Your food distributor will also update you on new food trends and products, so you can change your menu if needed.

At their core, a food distributor should be a partner who cares about your business as much as you do. Remember the following tips when determining how to choose a food service company that best meets your needs.

  • Do your research: Ask other food operators in your area for their feedback on distributors they have worked with, or research offerings online. Partnering with a food distributor is a significant decision, so the more information you can gather, the better.
  • Ask the right questions: Any food distributor you’re considering working with should treat you like family and be happy to answer any questions. Find out as much as you can about how your potential distributor operates and whether they can fit in with your specific needs and schedule.
  • Check the products: A food distributor is only helpful to you if they have most of the products you need. Bigger isn’t always better. Helping you keep your menu current, ensuring you don’t run out of stock and impressing your patrons are much more relevant qualities.
  • Create a long-term partnership: Your partnership should be mutually beneficial, so make your expectations clear from the outset and allow your food distributor to do the same. Work with a distributor who values your relationship and proactively manages your account long after you’ve signed on the dotted line.
  • Think about tailored solutions: Regional knowledge, recommendations and solutions personalized to your business needs are the cornerstones of a productive relationship with your distributor.

Partner With Feeser’s Food Distributors for the Quality Products You Need

When you partner with a food distributor, you need to know they can deliver the products you need to keep your business running smoothly. Feeser’s is more than a broadline food distributor. We’re a partner in every sense of the word. From our humble beginnings as a produce stand over a century ago, we’ve grown alongside the industry to provide the Mid-Atlantic region with over 8,000 products from hundreds of regional and national manufacturers.

At Feeser’s, we believe in being flexible and getting you the products you want. While our experienced reps are always happy to offer advice, we know how vital it is to use brands you know and trust. We will bring your order to your door, whether you run a family market, corner deli or massive restaurant chain. Partner with Feeser’s today if you’re ready for a different take on full-service food distribution. Alternatively, feel free to reach out with any questions, and one of our reps will be in touch!