Getting Choosy: Find the Right Ingredient Suppliers for Your Food Business

You know that not all ingredients are equal, and that’s why you have a high-quality food product. Whether you’re a CPG or ready-to-eat brand, good quality inputs make all the difference. At the beginning of your brand’s life, you may be selecting ingredients based on proximity and price. You may not have many options for suppliers and distributors, or you may just be bootstrapping your purchasing at Costco. No matter what stage you’re in, everyone can benefit from a tutorial on suppliers.

You don’t have to be big to think big

We love this article from Food Safety Magazine for its thorough, step-by-step example of making ingredient decisions. It might be laughable to think about your brand following the regimented departmental process (Quality Assurance team? Product Development team?). But everyone can learn from the big guys when it comes to making supplier choices. Here’s our takeaways, adapted for the smaller guys:

  • Get paperwork. Your friend Tim makes amazing honey on his farm that will taste incredible in your granola bar. You know Tim, but that doesn’t mean Tim doesn’t need insurance. Make sure he has the coverage you require, and have him name your brand as additionally insured. Get his local, state and (if applicable) federal production licenses. Obtain his third-party certification records. Don’t let Tim put your brand at risk.
  • Get references. Does Tim supply to other brands? Get a list of references, and actually call them. Make sure that Tim can meet your quality standards and maintain a relationship that won’t leave you hanging in the future.
  • Utilize trust, but do your research.ย Both you and Tim have to trust each other for the relationship to work. But trust is no excuse to conduct sloppy research (or no research at all). Know everything about Tim’s process, know Tim’s suppliers, if he has any, and know Tim’s other customers. And if he wants to know the same thing about you, make sure to give him everything he needs
  • Say no. You’re the QA team. If something isn’t going right, say something. Reserve the right to say no to bad deals and bad relationships (we’re not a lifestyle blog, but do this in your regular life too…).

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