Small distributors vs big chains

Joined Oct 1, 2016
When buying veggies, fruits, groceries, etc do you prefer working with these smaller, locally owned distributors or big chain ones like Sysco, US Foods, and Gordon Food Services?

Pros and cons?
Joined Oct 10, 2005
After 35 years in the biz--20 of them running my own show, I can tell you this:

Giants play gest with giants, and dwarves play best with dwarves.

Thus, if you're a 500 room hotel with 6 f&b outlets, the big boys will give you good prices and good service.

If you're a 50 seat place, the big boys will whine about "minimum orders" for deliveries and really screw around on pricing, and make you buy everything from coffee to toilet paper., and really try to screw you over on soap and cleaning supplies.

The 50 seat place will get great pricing and good service from the grocery guy down the street. You buy your dairy and dry goods from Costco at the best price there possibly is, you get your coffee from the local roaster and get bragging rights on using their stuff, same with the local bakery.

Just remember, every time you sign an invoice from the big boys, your sales rep (or excuse for one) name is on the upper corner, s/he's getting a commission on your order. Are they actually earning it?
Joined Sep 25, 2016
Right on the money.

At a 70 seater, I've had sysco reps quote "No Minimum order". Two weeks later sysco doesn't show. Call them. "We have a $1000 minimum order."

At a 500 seater, I've had sysco load the pallets onto our service elevator and unload them upstairs and had some kind of regional big-wig offer private personal Servsafe certifications to our kitchen staff because "we're such a good client".
Joined Jan 19, 2014
I don't agree with Foodpump and the others entirely. Of course a 500 seater has more clout and buying power than a 50 seater, but that doesn't mean a 50 seater (like me) can't get great service and great pricing. It really boils down to the quality of the rep and the amount amount of work you're willing to put in to send out your business for bid regularly. My rep regularly bails me out when I run out of item unexpectedly and he'll bring it to me between orders. He regularly reviews my order guide to get me better prices when the market changes. If your rep isn't doing any work for you, ask for a different rep.

That said, the local guy's produce is cheaper and far superior. The local bakery has fresh vs. frozen product with no minimum. The local dairy guy has broader selection, great service and in some cases better pricing, as does my local fish monger. I'm sure much of this depends on geography, but for me at least, I need the broadline distributor for about 75% of my buys, the small local specialty guys for the rest.. Hated Sysco, Love US Foods. Gorden and Reinhart/AGAR for me aren't competitive. I'll do Restaurant Depot run for all my chemicals and some dry goods and deli meats on occasion. Can't imagine shopping at Costco for anything on a regular basis. The pricing doesn't come close to real wholesale and your time is worth something. If it's not, you need to re-think what you are doing with it.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
"Boils down tonthe quality of the rep..."


Thing is, I don't have any "juicy accounts" in my area, those are all in the downtown core. That means the newbie rep gets the smaller accounts, which are in my area, and in my 30 odd years in the biz, I've never had newbie rep who actually knew what they were doing.

That doesn't mean the reps can't/ won't learn o.t.j. . But here's the kicker:They learn at my expense. Once they are competent at their jobs, they go after the bigger/better accounts, and the next newbie is trying to tell me that their housebrand of ketchup is just as good as brand name, and just pennies cheaper too ! Oh joy.....

And on and on it goes....

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