Navigating the supplier landscape
Just as the quality of ingredients can make or break a dish, the food supplier you choose can determine the success or failure of your culinary venture. But with hundreds of food suppliers in London alone to choose from, knowing which one is best for your business isn't always easy.
Food suppliers exist to simplify the complexities of sourcing food products for restaurants and other professional kitchens. Beyond providing a reliable and convenient source of ingredients, a strong supplier relationship can help you boost efficiency, deliver time and cost savings, and even help you reduce your restaurant carbon footprint.
In other words, the right supplier can be a key ingredient for the quality and success of your business - whether that's a restaurant, street food vendor, catering company or other food venture.
Of course, the choice you make will depend on your specific needs, budget and sourcing requirements - so it's important to have your business' objectives and values in mind while exploring. We also recommend sharing these in early conversations with your suppliers - the right partner can help you follow this plan and support you in your growth.
Whether you're launching a new food business or are a seasoned player in the industry, this guide is designed to navigate you through the diverse landscape of food suppliers in London and the UK, with tips on finding, choosing and creating healthy relationships with the best supplier for you.
For more tips on food suppliers in London, check out this blog on the benefits of using a food supplier and building a strong relationship with your food supplier.
Let's dig in.
This article will cover:
What is a food supplier?
How to find the right food supplier for your business
Types of food suppliers in London and the UK
What is a food supplier
Definition: a food supplier is a business that provides food products to food service operators, including restaurants, caterers, grocery stores, street food traders, hotels, cafés and other food-related businesses.
They play a key role in the food and beverage industry, serving as the bridge between food producers and manufacturers to professional kitchens. They may specialise in a particular category, for example, meats, dairy, dry store, or they may offer a variety of products across categories. Some even provide non-food related items, such as packaging, napkins and kitchen equipment.
The level of customer service can also vary, from no to little contact to dedicated account managers and teams that offer support on planning, logistics and sustainability goals.
How to find the right supplier for your business
1. Determine your needs
Start by identifying the specific needs of your business. Some good questions to ask yourself include:
What type of ingredients are you looking for (e.g. specialty ingredients, local product or standard staples?)
What are your budget, storage space and delivery requirements?
How much time do you want to spend on procurement?
What values are important to you?
Do you want support in other areas of your business?
And if you're looking to switch from your current supplier, ask yourself why you're looking to change. Are you experiencing any issues with your current supplier that you'd like to avoid?
Make a list of all your needs and keep them in mind when researching. You may even want to share these when talking to new suppliers to make sure they meet your requirements and, if switching, you don't end up with the same problems.
2. Consider your customer’s needs
Alongside your own needs, it's important to think about your customer and wider consumer preferences too.
With demand for sustainable practices, transparency and healthier options reshaping the food industry, embracing these trends as opportunities for growth will help you remain relevant, enhance brand image and attract new customers.
Whether these values directly align with your own or not, finding a supplier that prioritises these values can help take some of the legwork for you and keep up with customer demand.
3. Research potential suppliers
With google at our fingertips there are plenty of online resources, directories and supplier websites you can scroll through. Or if you prefer meeting in person, consider attending food industry trade shows, conventions and networking events to meet uk food suppliers first hand and learn about their offerings.
Another great way is by word of mouth. Seek recommendations from other chefs, restaurant owners or others in the food industry. Reviews based on personal experiences can give insight into what it's like to work with a certain supplier and whether they deliver on what they promise.
Side note from Collectiv Food: If you'd like to have a chat with one of our customers, just get in touch and we'll set up a call.
4. Are they reputable?
Ensuring your food supplier complies with industry standards and regulations is crucial. While researching, check the credentials and reputation of a potential supplier by looking for certifications related to food safety and quality. Some common and important certifications include HACCP and BRCGS. Depending on your requirements, you may want to look for more specific accreditations like Soil Association Organic, HFA Halal, Red Tractor or B Corp certifications.
This is also a good time to check reviews and testimonies to see how others find working with the supplier.
If you can't find what you're looking for online, or don't have time to dig, a reputable food supplier should be happy to supply appropriate information on request.
5. Contact suppliers
By this point, hopefully you've narrowed down a handful of suppliers that meet your needs. Now's your time to reach out and speak to them via phone or email.
This is your chance to ask about products, pricing, delivery options and other relevant questions (such as minimum order requirements, lead times and payment terms). We'd also suggest running through that list of business objectives and values you created earlier. Sharing these can help to align your goals and set expectations.
We'd recommend having a quick call with potential partners before committing to meeting in person. This gives you a chance to determine compatibility, saving you time if it's not a match.
6. Sample products
Before committing, it's important to test the products you're interested in. Do they match the quality and taste you're looking for? If not, does the supplier have alternative options that may be better suited?
It's important not to rush this step and be happy with the final product. A supplier may be well-aligned on other aspects, but at the end of the day, if they can't supply what you need, unfortunately, they're not the right fit.
7. Negotiate terms
At this point, hopefully you've narrowed down your potential food suppliers. Maybe you've even found your winner. Either way, you need to negotiate terms. This includes finalising pricing, payment terms, deliveries options and other relevant details.
Once agreed, a good supplier should draw up a formal contract outlining these terms.
8. Test the relationship
Do they deliver what they promise? A trial period can help you assess the reliability, quality and consistency of the supplier and their products before fully committing. They're also helpful for getting logistics right and setting up a healthy future together.
Food supply is logistically complex. Not only is food a perishable good with varying requirements, but each restaurant or food business is different too. Delivery points, sign offs, security and other factors all need to be assessed and agreed before putting it into practice. Then it's time to test and refine for a slick end result.
If there are any niggles, share these with your suppliers so they know and can respond. The more open both parties are in this period, the more effective the relationship will be in the long-term.
9. Building a strong relationship
Now that you've found the right supplier for your food business, the key is to nurture a strong two-way relationship built on communication and trust. Discuss your needs, concerns and expectations, give feedback and maintain a positive relationship with transparency and timely payments.
Viewing your relationship as a long-term partnership, rather than a transactional one, will build trust and stability over time and help you get the most out of your relationship.
Types of Food Suppliers
A food distributor works directly with manufacturers, producers and growers, connecting them with food businesses and in return negotiating competitive pricing and credit terms. They offer a wide variety of products and provide regular and reliable delivery services.
Local food markets and cooperatives:
These suppliers offer a range of products, from fresh produce, meat and dairy to baked goods and specialty items. The primary difference between these two suppliers lies in their ownership and how they interact with the community. Both tend to have a focus on locally-sourced and seasonal goods, supporting local producers, artisans and community-based organisations. They do not typically offer transportation services and are best for smaller volume purchases.
Wholesale food suppliers:
Food wholesalers purchase food in bulk from manufacturers and retailers and resell it in smaller quantities to other businesses at a profit. Typically they have a wide variety of products and an established delivery networks and logistics system.
Farmers and growers:
An individual, family or business that cultivates, produces, and manages crops, plants and agricultural products. Direct purchasing ensures traceability of ingredients but can be logistically complex and more vulnerable to supply challenges (e.g. crop failure).
Meat and poultry/ seafood/ dairy suppliers:
As the names suggest, these suppliers specialise in sourcing, processing and distributing certain food categories. Some suppliers have processing facilities where they further process products to meet customer specifications, customise or package.
Speciality food suppliers:
This type of supplier specialises in foods that are not widely available through mainstream retail channels and are often associated with specific regional or cultural traditions. They often prioritise quality, artisanship and curation.
So what type of food supplier is Collectiv Food?
You may hear us refer to Collectiv Food as a next generation food supplier. But what does this mean?
As we source both directly from our network of vetted suppliers and also through partners that meet and align with our values, we sit nicely between a food distributor and food wholesaler.
But we also do things a little differently than the traditional models. At Collectiv Food, our mission is to transform how food is accessed and distributed across cities. Why? Because we saw a need for change: the current food supply chain is multilayered, full of hidden costs and lacking transparency. It's also inefficient. The classic "one delivery after another" model crowds our roads with lorries, adding more unnecessary costs and polluting our cities with emissions.
Sowe're changing the way things are done. We're saving professional kitchens time, money and stress by consolidating their supply chain and handling the nitty gritty for them (ie. sourcing, vetting, logistics). We're also making it easier for food businesses to be sustainable with free sustainability data and a unique last mile delivery model that reduces delivery emissions by up to 70%.
Finding a food supplier may take a little time and effort, but remember that they're more than simply a source for ingredients, but valuable partners in supporting your business' goals and growth.
Looking for a new food supplier in London? Get in touch to see how we can work together.