Foodservice and Retail Distributors Product Considerations

Posted on 10/12/2009 at 12:00 AM by Christa Hartsook

Here are some important product characteristics that help sell locally grown foods:

  • High quality and price are primary considerations for any food product.  Distributors and their customers use them to determine value.  Food needs to be safe, nutritious, and wholesome, and it has to look good too!
  • Consumer interest in organic and natural foods is increasing.  For organic foods, certification is required which signifies that the food is produced within specific guidelines.  Using the term “natural” does not require certification, but it does imply that the product has been minimally processed with few, if any, additives.
  • Products that are unique and perhaps appeal to regional tastes have a marketing edge.
  • Consumers respond favorably to products that are produced in a manner that encourages agricultural, environmental, and social sustainability.  The fact that the product is produced locally supports this goal.
  •  For some products, the fact that the product is produced in a family farm operation also makes it attractive to consumers.


Distributors may ask you to provide:

  • Organic certification
  • Origin or place where product is grown or processed
  • Conditions under which animals are raised, such as “range-fed,” not confinement raised, etc.
  • Name of specific breed or type of animal, poultry, or fish
  • Documentation of chemicals, drugs, or other additives that are not usually necessary in producing the product
Product storage, delivery and packaging
  • General tips
    • Be able to maintain cold storage at proper temperatures
    • Expect to label your products.  Most distributors encourage this as it helps identify the special attributes of your product.
    • If product is labeled, be aware of required statements of quality, weight, volume, ingredients, and nutritional value.
  • Meats, poultry, fish
    • Usually the seller arranges slaughter, packing, and shipping to distributors warehouse
    • Meats are usually packed in stated quantities by cut and USDA quality grade.
    • Distributors often specify packaging materials and sizes.
    • Inspection (state and federal) is the responsibility of the grower or packer.  These might include: State of Iowa, USDA, Kosher, Halal, and organic certification.
  •     Other documentation that you might be asked to provide:
    • Traceability information (animal ID and origin information and stockyard or processor name and location)
    • Statement of antibiotic usage/withdrawal
    • Breed certification
  • Fruits and Vegetables
    • Usually the producer hauls the produce or arranges to have it delivered to a warehouse
    • Some distributors are able to pick up produce in refrigerated trucks at the farm or at a local consolidators warehouse
    • Distributors want the produce to be cleaned and have all dead stems, leaves, and roots removed.  Remember, it has to look good to sell!
    • Distributors will usually specify the size and type of shipping container to use
    • Be sure to label the container with product description, weight or number, and quality grade (if appropriate).  Your own label may be used here.
    • Provide organic certification documents and label if your product is organically grown.
  •     Other documentation that you might be asked to provide:
    • Producer name and location
    • Field ID (GPS or other)
    • Harvest date
    • Chemicals/fertilizers used
    • Storage location
  • Dairy
    • The producer is usually responsible for hauling the product with proper refrigeration.
    • Dairy product labels provide a good opportunity to advertise your dairy.
    • Be sure to include on the label the following: 
    • Product
    • Grade or certification
    • Volume or weight
    • “use by” date
  • Distributors usually ask you to provide documentation that shows:
    • Production date and lot number
    • Storage location
    • Inspection documents
    • Producer name and location
    • Chemicals/fertilizers/drugs/additives used

Categories: Local/Regional Foods