Local vs. Large Food Suppliers: What’s Best for Your Restaurant?

By: Cesar Quintero

4 Minute Read

Apr 05, 2018

Food Suppliers

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Now more than ever, there’s a huge focus on sustainability, healthy eating, and supporting locally-owned businesses - and the numbers prove it.

This begs the question - should your restaurant cook with ingredients from local suppliers, or is it still a wiser choice to do business with nationwide chains? There are countless details to consider, such as:

  • Food quality - does local really mean fresh, and is the difference worth it?
  • Price - is there a cost to supporting your community?
  • Convenience - will your supplier value you and follow through when you need them?
  • Customer appeal - will your food's supplier impact the guest's perception of your restaurant?

Let's go over how the trend of loving local suppliers began, how it impacts the restaurant industry today, and what you should consider before making an informed decision on who should supply food for your restaurant.

Going Loco Over Local

A 2015 report from the USDA shows that local and regional food sales totaled $6.1 billion dollars in 2012. That’s up $1.3 billion from the $4.8 billion in total sales reported in 2008 - a 27% increase in less than five years - and now the trend has only gotten stronger.

As if that’s not enough, NPR estimates that Chipotle - which has sworn off using GMO ingredients - is worth more than Applebee’s, Chili’s, IHOP, Olive Garden, TGIFridays, and Red Lobster combined. Fresh marketing campaigns like their “Food With Integrity” and “Local Grower Support” initiatives are given the credit as fresh menus and social responsibility are becoming increasingly important in our society — especially among the Millennial generation.

At this point, you may be thinking that it only makes sense to source your restaurant’s ingredients from a local grower. And while doing so offers you advantages, there are also benefits to using a major supplier. The fact is, there are pros and cons for each method and choosing one over the other depends on your preferences and other factors related to your restaurant and its brand.

Here’s a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both local and large nationwide restaurant suppliers.

The Pros & Cons of Locally Sourced Food

Everyone loves this term, and having it on your menu is definitely appealing to customers looking to eat healthy. If your goal is to provide the freshest and highest quality food in your establishment, locally-grown produce is often the best choice.

Case in point: Localharvest.org says that the average travel time for fruits and veggies in the United States is about 1,500 miles. Food that’s on the road for that amount of time is generally not as fresh as food from farms in your city or the neighboring area. Plus, the numbers show that there's a good amount of consumers (up to 34%) who would be willing to pay more for locally grown food.

Other benefits to staying local are:

  • Supporting locally-owned businesses (and your local economy).
  • Building a network and establishing relationships with local growers.
  • The positive results (and perception) of using “locally grown” on your menu and in marketing.
  • Higher-quality ingredients and fresher menu items.

The Pros & Cons of Ordering From Major Suppliers

Although local growers offer many advantages, working with a national supplier can be beneficial to you in various ways, not the least of which is saving money.

Due to their nationwide spread of customers, large suppliers are more inclined (and financially able) to offer discounts, bulk deals, and sometimes more variety. As much as we'd all love to support local business, many items that you need can’t be found or supplied on a regular basis, and you'll have much more luck finding them with national vendors. Other pros to going the major supplier route include:

  • One source for numerous items - major suppliers usually carry everything from food items and ingredients to cleaning supplies and more.
  • Cost reduction - supply chain management helps reduce costs and improve your bottom line.
  • Delivery - working with local growers means you may have to go pick up your items, whereas major vendors offer delivery.
  • Variety - because major suppliers often have more selection, you can in turn offer more options to your customers.

Where Do You Get Your Food?

While cost is always a top consideration when sourcing your restaurant, both local growers and major vendors offer desirable benefits. So when you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, it’s best to sit down and weigh all the elements and take some time to think about what experience you’re looking to provide to your customers.

Many restaurant owners actually employ a good mix of both methods, which allows them to reap the benefits of each. This can be a smart decision if you have a handful of signature dishes that you highlight for their use of local ingredients.

Where do you get your food from, and why? Share your story with other restaurateurs in the comments below.

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