Food Trucks 101: Where to Stock Up on Ingredients
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This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own Food Truck Business, the staff Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and writer Rich Mintzer explain how you can get started in the mobile food industry, whether you want to own a food truck, cart, trailer, kiosk or other on-the-go food business. In this edited excerpt, the authors suggest six sources you can use to purchase the ingredients you need for your food truck's offerings.
Sourcing, as they call it in the food business, is the process of getting your foods and other ingredients. Like a restaurant, you need to determine your potential volume and buy accordingly. You always need to be planning in advance to shop or receive orders so that you're never out of necessities. If you're cooking, make a detailed shopping list of ingredients. If you're buying food from wholesalers, know how much you need, how much you can safely keep fresh, and how much you can sell before any food goes bad. You're better off running out of food on a busy day than selling something that isn’t fresh. Determining the right quantities to purchase is usually a matter of trial and error.
Where to source your food can be a factor in planning your purchases, schedule and offerings. Here are six sources to consider:
1. Wholesale food distributors. You can find plenty of food choices on the Internet at sites like Food Service.com or Business.com, which offers directories of food and beverage suppliers. You can look up food wholesalers in your area or go directly to major ones such as Sysco, Performance Food Group or US FoodService.
2. Manufacturers. Most major food manufacturers should be easily reachable and, in many cases, will sell you what you need or point you in the right direction so you can find their products nearby. Start with their websites. There are thousands of big companies to consider. There are also numerous small companies and niche providers that can supply you with a tremendous number of tasty options. From apples to zucchini, someone is ready with the food you need. As is the case when buying anything, compare prices along with quality as you shop
3. Local and regional suppliers. If you start looking locally, you're sure to find food distributors in your area. Regional suppliers like Cheney Brothers in the southeast and Smart and Final on the West Coast can also be very helpful if you're in their area of distribution.
4. Greenmarkets and farmers markets. A very popular option for some of the new food carts and trucks hitting the streets is to sell the healthiest versions of the basic food truck favorites by seeking organic farms and greenmarkets. You’ll have to charge a little more to cover the slightly higher costs, but you’ll attract the health-conscious crowd, and that’s a big demographic in some areas.
Food shopping is a huge endeavor for Adria Shimada, who looks for all organic products to use when making homemade ice cream for her Seattle food truck. “I get everything from different distributors. Milk and cream come from a local certified organic dairy farm about 80 miles away, and I get eggs in another nearby town from another organic farm. All of my produce is real fresh produce, I don’t use flavors or extracts. For my mint ice cream, I use real spearmint from a farm in Carnation, Washington,” explains Shimada who scouted and tasted the food from many farms before finding her sources. Some deliver to her commercial kitchen, and others are found at farmer’s markets in Seattle where farmers bring the wholesale quantities she needs.
Get to know area growers, talk to farmers and vendors at farmers’ markets, and scout around carefully for whatever you need.
5. Food cooperative. When restaurateurs and/or mobile food owners order foods together in bulk quantities, they can save money. The larger the order, the better the discount. So if you can find some noncompetitive entrepreneurs, you can ask if they want to team up and place orders with you, which is how a food co-op is formed. A co-op is simply a group of individuals who come together for their mutual benefit, not unlike a credit union. You can look in your neighborhood for others interested in forming a co-op or, if you're interested in natural food co-ops (as well as finding plenty of information on co-ops), you can visit the Co-op Directory.
6. Shopping clubs. BJ’s Wholesale Club, Sam’s Club, Costco and other shopping clubs have become very popular as the idea of buying quality food in bulk has caught on. Restaurant owners shop at these clubs, and so can you. Each requires a membership with an annual fee. You can then stock up on many items you need at reasonable prices. Of course, you can also shop where the restaurant owners and their chefs shop—in places like Restaurant Depot and Jetro.