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Questions To Ask Suppliers When Sourcing Food for Your Menu

May 15, 2021
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Supermarket delis, grab-n-go meals, curbside service, and slimmed-down restaurant areas or kiosks are becoming increasingly more popular. This is especially true as grocery stores look to satisfy customer demands with a one-stop-shop for groceries, dinner, quick snacks, and more. Finding the right food service vendor for your menu needs can be a weighty decision, as it affects the products, safety, and customer service your operation receives. Today we’ll explore four important topics to address with suppliers to ensure all your needs are met.

1. Food safety
Food safety is the top priority for any foodservice operation. Training your employees on proper food handling is one way to keep food safe, but food also flows into your kitchen from other sources. The supplier (or suppliers) you choose should also view safety as the most important element. Ask vendors for records on their compliance history and inquire about the safety controls they have in place for food recalls, damaged, rejected, expired, on-hold products. Check if there is a log of temperatures you can access. Do they have a protocol in place for pest management and sanitation schedules? And what is their compliance with the Food Defense Program (part of the Bioterrorism Act)?

Additionally, request a copy of their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points manual (HACCP) and look over their standard operating procedures. Strongly consider visiting the distribution center to see it in action. Be on the lookout for an organized, clean facility and delivery trucks. Check if there are temperature-controlled rooms (with visible temperature display units). You’ll be able to tell a lot about a vendor by the appearance, attention to detail, and paperwork available.

2. Product specification and transparency
When securing a foodservice supplier, your job is to express clear product specifications about what is acceptable to your operation. See if you can open specific foods, test samples, and look for the quality and taste of each product you plan to bring into your establishment. Ask if they source any products locally or who their top suppliers are.

Gain an understanding of how they track their inventory and if you’ll have access to digital updates about products in or out of stock? Question how they handle out-of-stock items and substitutions. Ask the vendor about ingredient or allergen alerts and how the products will meet the specifications.

Also, is information available to decipher shipping and product labels, coding information for manufacturing dates, use-by dates, batch, time of production, processing plant numbers, distribution order numbers, and ship dates? Ask what type of internal audits the distribution center has and determine if your operation would like to conduct audits or access information via a third-party auditor.

3. Delivery details
Food first enters your building through deliveries, so it’s important to know what happens in transit, as well as on your loading dock. Ask how the supplier complies with the Food Defense Program while food is in transport. What protocols are in place for traceability? How is food chosen in the warehouse to ensure that the right products are shipped? Is first in/first-out inventory followed; how does the company keep inventory updated and limit short-dated or expired products from reaching your operation? Check to see how damaged, mispicked items or other credits are handled and documented upon delivery.

The time of delivery is also an important aspect. Stores should check-in products to be sure they temp correctly, aren’t damaged, and that the correct items were delivered. Establish a delivery schedule and consider also setting a window of time that deliveries are acceptable so staff is available to receive the products.

4. Pricing and contract negotiations
When choosing a food supplier, you want to get the best quality at the best price. Negotiating pricing is your first move. Gather pricing lists from different suppliers and determine which vendors offer the most competitive pricing. And be sure delivery schedules are part of your contract as well. Also, ask if the vendor provides any additional services such as ServSafe training or knife-skill classes as part of your agreement. An excellent supplier that works with you to create a successful operation is a great partner to have.

Stay in the game
Finding an excellent foodservice supplier helps your operation stay in the game. Interested in checking out other ways to up your strategy? Check out the incredible ovens that help make fast, customizable menus for your customers.

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