Sorting food suppliers for your pub

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Sorting food suppliers for your pub
Mark Taylor looks at what to consider when choosing food suppliers for your pub Where to find suppliers If you are only just starting to go big on...

Mark Taylor looks at what to consider when choosing food suppliers for your pub

Where to find suppliers

If you are only just starting to go big on food at your pub, the chances are that you may have already appeared on the radar of local or national food suppliers. Word gets around quickly in this business and before you know it, you may find yourself getting phone calls or receiving unannounced visits from sales reps.

As well as suppliers coming to you, it pays to do a bit of research yourself, especially if you are looking for local producers to supply your pub.

Visit local farmers' markets and food festivals to see who is producing great food in your area, or look on the internet for local food groups. A good starting point would be websites such as​ run by Food From Britain, which markets UK regional food and drink suppliers.

A one-stop shop approach may be your easiest solution, such as using a delivered wholesaler like Brakes, 3663 or Woodward foodservice. Find out what's on offer on their websites.

A company has also been set up by former licensee Wendy Baird to help connect local businesses, including pubs, with local suppliers. We Trade Local organises small exhibitions of approximately 35 companies and creates regional directories which may range from a local cheese producer to a dishwasher company based in your pub's area.

Baird says: "As 65% of consumers already buy local in some way, businesses appreciate the demand is there and understand the importance of working towards lower food miles, but they don't know who their local suppliers are."

Local trade exhibitions have so far taken place in Leicester, Northampton and Nottingham, with the fourth in Derby on 18 September, and with plans to extend to other areas of the UK. The exhibitions and directories are both free to licensees. For more information visit

Forthcoming exhibitions, the Restaurant Show at London's Earls Court 2 from 8 to 10 October, and the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, will also be full of supplier ideas. Visit​ or​ for more information.

Delivered wholesalers/cash and carries

Like supermarkets, delivered wholesalers provide a one-stop shop for chefs and pub owners when it comes to stocking up the kitchen.

There are several national and regional delivered wholesalers and major players such as Brakes and 3663 have both responded to the growing demand for local food.

Brakes reflects the demand from chefs and their customers for more regional produce in its increased range of local foods.

Wholesale distributor 3663 has launched a range of specialist regional products and seasonal local vegetables in the South West, East Anglia and Wales and there are plans to extend this with other regional food hubs.

With 172 branches nationwide, cash and carry wholesaler Booker has a range of 10,000 food and drink lines, including its own "Chef's Larder" premium range of products. To make life even easier for chefs, Booker has an online ordering system on its website.

Other leading cash and carries such as Makro also provide chefs with a huge range of products and services. With 25,000 products in its stores, Makro also offers a large range of fresh meat and poultry, with a free butchery "cut and collect" service. It also stocks more than 250 fruit and vegetable lines and in excess of 300 cheeses.

Tenant deals

If you are a pubco tenant then check with your pub company what deals may be in place with certain suppliers. For example, Punch has negotiated deals with Brakes that its tenants can use.

Mail order

A way of using specialist producers is through mail order. Kevin Chandler, head chef of the Pear Tree in Whitley, Wiltshire, says: "We're very lucky to have our own farm shop down the road from the pub, but I also use rare-breed meat producers who deliver by mail order. There are some great producers out there and it only takes a quick look on Google to find one close to your pub.

There are also some very good books around. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book, for example, has some excellent producers listed in the back, many of whom deliver by mail order. You may have to order it a week in advance, but if they can guarantee delivery at a certain time and date, you can still plan a menu around it and the quality is more than worth the wait.

How to choose the right suppliers

Once you have tracked down suppliers - or have been tracked down by them - you will need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ask suppliers to provide you with samples of products you are interested in using, such as meat, vegetables or fish. The quality will vary enormously and your chefs will soon get to know which suppliers are selling the best quality


Quality control

Although price is important, if you are trying to achieve a quality food offering at your pub, using the very best produce is key to your


Former Gordon Ramsay chef Daniel Cameron took over the Navigation Inn, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, earlier this year. He says: "There's a line between quality and price and you've got to find where they meet and what's right for the market you've got. You obviously want the best quality product you can find, but you've also got to make money and hit your GP.

"For most chefs it's about the quality. You can get a rib-eye from one supplier and a

rib-eye from another and they may have a cost price difference of £4 per steak, but one will melt in the mouth and the other you'll be chewing for 10 minutes."


Suppliers are chosen primarily because of the quality of their product, but their ability to deliver is also a key factor. There's no point having a fish supplier who delivers the fish in the middle of the lunchtime service when you can use one who delivers first thing in the morning so you can prep it in time to be put on the lunch menu.

Using local suppliers is generally better because if you run out of something, the chances are they can deliver it straight away, rather than having to order it on the phone to be delivered the next day or whenever they are next in your area. The downside is that some local producers are simply too small to have an adequate delivery infrastructure in place, which may mean you having to pick up the produce yourself.

Prices, like quality, will vary enormously. With dry goods, they're usually offering the same products and the same brands, so the prices won't vary too much. The quality will be pretty much consistent with each supplier, and things such as spices, oils and vinegars will be competitively priced. Vegetables will generally be fairly consistent as they don't have as short a life as meat and fish, which will almost certainly fluctuate in price and quality. Of course, you will have to charge a bit more for using quality ingredients, but as long as you have a customer base that appreciates that, then you won't have a problem.

If you have a pub that churns out quick, easy meals, the quality may not be such an issue and prices will be lower, so you won't be using the best quality meat you can. It all depends on the market you're aiming at.

Checking orders

As with any business, you have to show producers who's boss from the outset. If you don't, you'll be subject to them trying to pull a fast one from the start. One of the most common problems chefs face with suppliers is consistency of quality and also being sent underweight produce.

Weigh the produce yourself when the supplier del

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