The Crucial Role of a Commercial Food Distributor

Food distributors deliver food and related products like plates, cups, and napkins to foodservice operators like grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other enterprises.

Food distribution goes beyond the movement of products from the manufacturer to the retailers and customers. Actually, commercial food distributors don’t go directly to these institutions, but they deal with corporate stores. Then the smaller entities pick lesser quantities from these bigger companies and display them on the shelves of their stores.

Types of Commercial Foodservice Distributors

There are different types of foodservice distributors catering to a specific market based on their needs and industry.

Broadline Distributors: They are one-stop-suppliers to the foodservice operators purchasing a large volume of products, thus eliminating the need for multiple distributors.

These distributors don’t specialize in a given type of product, but they supply a wide array of products, meeting the needs of different retailers, grocery stores, and restaurants.

They work with larger chains and retail outlets because they have the resources and capacity to serve a broad range of clients.

They also offer more dedicated support, pricing incentives, and volume discounts than other distribution models.

Specialty Distributor: These distributors deal with a single industry or product type. They are efficient within their niche and operate exclusively within it.

One example is a commercial food distributor handling fresh seafood and distributing it to high-end seafood markets and restaurants. The company invests in equipment to keep the product fresh and safe.

Thus, most specialty distributors handle products that require special handling skills while broader counterparts deal with different, packaged, shelf-stable goods.

Cash and Carry: The distributor doesn’t deliver products from manufacturers to food service operators; instead, the latter visits the distributor’s warehouse and purchase what they want. Most of their customers are caterers and restaurants.

Redistributor: These distributors don’t deal directly with foodservice operators. They buy from manufacturers but sell to small scale distributors who work with independent retailers, and restaurants that can’t buy from broadline distributors.

An excellent example is a small, local distributor buying from redistributor using its refrigerated vehicles and then delivering the products to a standalone seafood restaurant.

The Crucial Roles of Commercial Food Distributors

Besides getting products from the source to the seller, food distributors assist producers, factories, and growers in several ways.

1.    Marketing and Selling

Food distributors market the products they receive from you to potential retailers, restaurants, and grocery stores.

That means that foodservice operators don’t procure single products directly from manufacturers, growers, producers, or factories; instead, they deal with distributors.

Food distributors market your products to foodservice operators, thus helping you to concentrate on your core competency. Therefore, a manufacturer doesn’t have to manage relationships with retailers or customers.

2.    Warehousing and Transportation

The primary purpose of any distributor is to transport products from the source to the user. The source is the grower or factory while the user is the retailer, restaurant, or groceries stores that sell to the consumers.

That means that when producers form partnerships with distributors, they stop managing their product’s movement across the supply chain. They don’t invest in the logistics of their product.

Manufacturers are not concerned with their products’ warehousing needs that arise along the supply chain. Large distributors have warehouses where they store foods they collect from different producers. On the other hand, smaller or specialized distributors use refrigerated sprinters rather than warehouses when moving products from producers to the market.

Alternatively, smaller commercial distributors can procure shipments form well-established companies using cross-docking to deliver their products to the foodservice operators.

3.    Break Bulk

The distributors serve as intermediaries between the producers and operators handling food products. Thus they spilt the bulk inventory quantities they buy from manufacturers into smaller volumes that these convenience stores, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, and schools require.

Therefore, commercial food distributor purchases products from different producers and stores and delivers them to foodservice operators.

4.    Create Value-added Packages

Distributors smoothly connect customers and manufacturers. They enhance the product reach and expedite response times.

Further, the distributors create value-added packages that blend well with the product scope and offerings. Therefore, without the distributors, the retailer will have to perform these functions, and these will eat into their profits.

5.    They Provide Market Information

Distributors study the market on behalf of the producers and respond quickly to customers’ demand. They want to help you to remain competitive in the business environment because you’re their partner.

Thus, distributors working in a particular niche and geographic area can service customers in a manner that producers will find it challenging. For instance, they can spot market trends and pass the intelligence to producers.

For that reason, manufacturers should handle distributors as their best customers and partners. You should help them to understand your product for them to engineer, service and sell it.

How can Producers Sell to Commercial Food Distributors?

You may be wondering how you can engage these commercial food distributors and get your products onto the restaurant chef’s kitchen, store shelves, or even college dining offerings.

A consumer is a king in the business environment. Thus, you have to begin with the end-user and work your way backward. That means you have to understand customers’ needs, thus produce a product they are interested in. After that, the customer will ask the foodservice operator to avail that product

The second step is to build demand with the foodservice operator by ensuring that your product will improve its offerings. That means that your product helps them compete with their rivals in the market. Thus, it should be new, better, different, and consumers should like it.

The last step is to engage the distributors after ascertaining that there is enough demand. Foodservice operators will only use products delivered to them by distributors. The reason is that they can’t buy directly from a manufacturer or grower and have the bulk quantity shipped to them.


Manufacturers and growers should build demand in a given region or niche for distributors serving that region or niche to agree to pick their products, store, and deliver to the foodservice operators.

They should treat distributors as partners because they purchase their products and delivers them to the food service operators, thus helping them to make sales and profits.