Choosing the Right Food and Beverage Distributor

Make your workflow more efficient by choosing the right food distributor.

Selecting the right food and beverage distributor is essential for restaurants, hotels, venues, convenience stores, and even schools and caterers. Distributors must have consistent stock and provide prompt service at the right price. 

Only the best distributors do more than make sales and fill orders – they go above and beyond for their clients. They keep you aware of trends and new products, make recommendations, and strategize to guarantee you have unique offerings. 

Reliable distributors improve your business. Finding one that suits your unique needs ensures you have what you need when you need it. Whether you’re looking to replace your existing distributor, or are looking for the first time, below are a few simple steps to connect you with the best choice.

Key Takeaways

  • There are many types of food and beverage distributors, all focusing on different foodservice needs. Knowing and understanding the difference helps you better understand what to look for and which distributors will be helpful.
  • Asking the right questions helps narrow down the best distributors for you. Discern your business’s needs, learn what kind of questions you should be asking, and convert questions into tangible results.
  • There are distributors out there that can meet your needs and go the extra mile. Find out how to broaden your horizons and connect with the world’s top food and beverage distributors. 

Types of Food and Beverage Distributors

There are four types of food distributors, each serving specific types of foodservice institutions.


Broadline Distributor

Broadline distributors are high-volume distributors typically offering thousands of different products from several categories – paper, produce, and more. These generally are the most efficient option, as fewer distributors can meet many, if not all, of a company’s needs. 

However, broadline distributors aren’t without their limitations. They are typically large and serve large companies whose focus is on volume; their minimum orders are often too large for smaller businesses. 


Redistributors operate in a smaller capacity than broadline distributors. They provide “less than truckload” (LTL) amounts of products to individually owned foodservice operations. These are great for companies that don’t require bulk but still want access to a wide variety of products.

Specialty Distributor

Distributors of a single product type or serving a niche industry are “specialty” distributors. They serve a smaller market or a category that is typically not covered by broadline distributors. 

Companies that require specific products secure them from specialty distributors – things like fresh seafood, hard-to-find fruits or vegetables, etc. Additionally, some specialty distributors focus on one type of foodservice operation, like Greek restaurants or bakeries. 

Cash and Carry

Cash and carry distributors usually don’t offer transport to foodservice operators. Instead, buyers go to a warehouse for wholesale foods and ingredients and leave the same day with their purchases. Restaurant supply warehouses often operate this way.  

Knowing the difference allows you to determine the best distributors for your needs and know what to look for when the time comes. 

Flowchart explaining the food and beverage distribution from manufacturer to foodservice operator.

sourced from

Things to Consider when Choosing the Right Food and Beverage Distributor

When choosing your food and beverage distributor, it’s essential to gather information and evaluate your needs. Ask your neighboring businesses what distributors they use and which ones serve the area most effectively. The businesses around you will likely have favorite distributors and can point you in the right direction.

While you’re compiling information, don’t forget to reevaluate your kitchen as well.

Make Lists by Category

Make or review lists of the products you need and divide them into sections. Paper products and disposables – like tin foil or straws – can be ordered in larger quantities less often since they don’t go bad. Time-sensitive perishables – eggs, dairy, produce – will likely be smaller orders that require more frequent delivery. 

Also, reserve a section for specialized products you need, such as:

  • Specific imported products 
  • Pre-made pizza crusts
  • Out-of-area goods like fresh oysters 

Separating your required goods and ingredients into sections helps you visualize what you need and identify what products need to come from what distributors.

A color-coded excel spreadsheet for taking kitchen inventory, listing items, and their section designation.

This is a prime example of taking kitchen inventory and discerning your needs – each entry is indicated with a storage area or type (bread, beverages, etc.) and includes current unit prices. Having this at your fingertips helps ensure that you’re getting the best deal possible. 

Ask Questions

When considering a food and beverage distributor, keep some questions in mind.

  • Are There Order Minimums or Maximums? Effective inventory management is key when working with food. Food waste is inevitable if your distributor has a minimum order that still leaves you with too much perishable product. Before committing to a distributor, ensure they meet your specific needs. 
  • Does the Delivery Schedule Work? Determine delivery days and times that would be most beneficial. Choose a distributor that can meet your delivery needs or can strategize to make your deliveries work. Also, if you require weekend or holiday delivery, ask your prospective distributors if they can accommodate that.
  • What is Customer Service Like? Getting a hold of your distributor or customer service is essential if there’s a problem with your order. What type of contact information is available to customers? What are customer service hours? Does the distributor have a mobile app to make orders and contact easy? Distributors that are difficult to reach could result in costly mistakes. 
  • Is there Consistency? Are the products you need regularly available at relatively stable prices? If a distributor only carries what you need periodically – and they run out without warning – you’re left in an awkward situation. Instead of dealing with emergency re-orders from other distributors, ensure your chosen distributor is consistent. Also, evaluate the quality consistency. Do things arrive in good shape and are carefully packaged? Are containers damaged or leaking? If you need to wait on new deliveries, it’ll cost you time and effort. 
  • Are There Discounts for Bulk Orders? Some distributors offer discounts on bulk orders – the more units you order, the price per unit goes down. It may not be essential for your business, but it’s an attractive incentive.
  • Understand the Payment and Return Policy: Before committing to a distributor, fully understand when and how payment is expected. Perhaps more importantly, have a clear understanding of the return or replacement policy for wrong orders or damaged goods. 

Broaden Your Horizons for Choosing the Best Food and Beverage Distributors

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are food distributors out there that can solve your problems, save you money, and grow your business – you just have to find them.

With so much potential in the foodservice industries, companies need to look at securing top-notch distributors – not just to stay afloat but to get ahead. It can be challenging to know where to start, but for that, SIAL America is there.

SIAL America is Your Guide to Choosing the Best Food Distributors

The SIAL network boasts a collection of 11 world-class food events. Join the existing community of importers, wholesalers, and distributors that meet your needs. Cultivate meaningful connections and boost your business all at once. Expect a wide range of products from any category you need: beverages and groceries to snacks, sweets, and meats.

At SIAL America, you learn about the latest trends, build your business, and most importantly, get inspired! In today’s world, innovation reigns, and with exclusive first access to brand new products, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

SIAL America debuts in Las Vegas in March of 2022 – learn more today and find new distributors committed to your success.