Best Practices: Selecting the Right Products

By Clint Elkins, We Grow Value

The culinary world has grown in leaps and bounds and nowadays we have access to every food imaginable. However, as you peruse your supplier’s selection, it can quickly become overwhelming when countless options are laid out in front of you. There are many considerations when it comes to selecting the right products, from quality of ingredients to cost effectiveness.

Here are a few tips for selecting the right products for your needs.

Know your clients

First and foremost, you need to understand your clients. The food you’re purchasing is not for you, so your dietary preferences are of no concern. Select ingredients based on what your client base needs and what kinds of food tends to appeal to your ideal client. Take the time to understand the dietary preferences of your clients and their guests. This will determine whether you should splurge on organic choices, which spices to stock up on, which allergens to avoid, and so on.

Know your capabilities

Outside of your clients’ needs, your facility’s capacities are an important consideration. Start by determining whether you’ll be preparing the meals onsite or if you will be transporting them from your kitchen. Be familiar with the available equipment and storage space to be sure everything remains fresh until used. For example, you wouldn’t want to end up with more herbs than you can manage since they wilt quickly. Ensure that you have the right equipment to store, cook, present, and serve all of the ingredients that you purchase.

Know your seasons

Seasonality is something we tend to follow subconsciously in the catering industry. Rich, hearty foods are fitting for the fall and winter, whereas light and fresh dishes are perfect for the spring and summer. There’s a reason you don’t see pumpkin spice foods in the thick of July — it just doesn’t make sense. However, the other side of seasonality is understanding your region to know what ingredients are naturally grown throughout the year. Sticking to seasonal local produce generally guarantees the freshest and cleanest food available, without the added expense of transportation. We’ve also found that guests enjoy knowing the backstory of what’s on their plates, so the origin story can be a fun addition to an event experience.

Know your limitations

Smart buying decisions start with careful analysis of what has historically worked in the past, as well as what hasn’t. As the purchaser in your company, you need to understand the ins and outs of your business to make the best choices. Spend a moment evaluating the budget, time, and staffing limits to identify potential restrictions to an order. You must also have a good understanding of what your ideal client values from your service. If organic foods are important to your ideal client, you will need to find a way to make the budget work with that. However, if they chose you for cost effectiveness, you may need to opt for more budget-friendly options that allow you to focus more on quantity.

Remember that the ingredients that you purchase are an investment in your company. While the food may be consumed quickly, the impression that it leaves on your clients and their guests have a much longer shelf life. Don’t skimp on quality to save a few pennies, but be sure to understand the parameters set by your clients and your business model.

Clint Elkins is the VP of Sales at SB Value, a group purchasing program designed to reduce catering, kitchen and food-service costs by leveraging the collective buying power of thousands of companies.