You're all likely well-versed in the benefits of local sourcing. You know that, in the food service industry, it can save you money and make for better food. And with the growing popularity of the eat local movement, you probably realize that if you don’t step up your game in the local sourcing department, you will be losing big bucks to your competitors who do.
But making the leap to local sourcing is not as easy as choosing a farmer out of the phone book: you must follow three critical steps to ensure that you end up with the quality food you desire, delivered on-time and at a reasonable price.
Step 1: Decide on a Definition of Local.
In the food service world, if you ask 100 people what it means to source locally, you will probably get at least 50 different answers.
Some people think that local food should come from within the limits of their own town, while others are okay with the label as long as it is grown in their home state. The most common definition, however, is food sourced within 100 miles. Though the best idea may be to talk to your customers and get their take on it. After all, they are the ones you are trying to make happy.
Step 2: Evaluate Which Items Make the Most Sense to Source Locally.
Obviously, you won’t be able to source every ingredient for every recipe from farms in your area. You need to take a look at what you regularly order and consider if it is feasible (or even possible) to find in your area.
If you live in Nebraska, you will surely be able to source your corn, but you can probably forget about getting your seafood from a local vendor. Lobsters might be fresh in Maine, but you probably aren’t getting any avocados from the native crew.
But it’s not just produce and meat that you will want to consider: oils, dairy, and even fresh-made condiments may all be hiding in farms a lot closer than you think.
Do your homework, ask around, and try to uncover all of the locally sourced food in your area. Still wanting more? Frequenting your local farmer’s market is a great way to be introduced to items that you can get fresh right in your own neighborhood.
Step 3: Choose Your Supplier Wisely.
If you think your job is done now that you have decided what you want to buy locally, think again. Choosing your supplier is perhaps the most important step in the process. If you select a vendor who is reputable and reliable, you and your customers will be pleased. Pick haphazardly, and you will surely have more than one disappointment in your future.
To save you the trouble, make sure to ask these questions when considering your suppliers:
- What does your food taste like? Never put food in your restaurant that you haven’t personally tasted, especially when it’s coming straight from the farm. Not all produce and meat is created equal. You can say goodbye to uniformity when you aren't working with major distributors.
- What is your delivery schedule? Does the farmer even offer a delivery schedule that fits with your needs or will you be required to pick up the items yourself?
- Do you have any clients I can talk to? Since online reviews probably don’t exist for your food suppliers, you will want to have a chat with some of their current or previous customers to see if they were satisfied with the service and product they received.
- How does your pricing work? Does the supplier offer a discount in exchange for a guaranteed weekly order? Are prices similar to other vendors you have talked to? Just remember when comparing price quotes, the cheapest option is usually not the best quality, and you don’t want to sacrifice superior taste or better farming methods to save a few bucks.
These days, you can’t cut it in the food service industry if you aren’t willing to source some of your food locally. Customers expect and deserve high-quality, local food, and your bottom line could use the break that it offers. With a little bit of groundwork, you will be well on your way to a rewarding relationship with your local farmers in no time at all.