There was a panel of about six men representing various aspects of the purchasing process. One was a graduate from our school who was an agent from Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the largest suppliers of produce for this region. There were two men from Ginsberg's Foods, another supplier. One of the men had graduated from our school in '75 and he was like an advisor chef for this company. A fourth man was a representative of a seafood supply company called Foley's Fish. We also had a representative from Dairyland, a company that distributes milk, butter, eggs, cheeses and specialty foods throughout NY and NJ. Lastly, we had our very own buyer from the school present. He used to be an organic farmer for about 30 years. From what I have heard of him, he is very very knowledgeable about produce.
Here are some of the key points that we heard about:
-The term "local" can be defined in so many ways. Something they all agreed upon was that local should really mean anywhere within a leisurely day's drive. Most of the time, it is very hard to develop a restaurant or bakery that offers local products only fare due to seasonality.
-Organic - in my opinion, it just means more expensive and I won't buy it! I learned that for most of the farms today, they use organic procedures, but don't bother or can't afford to get the organic certification. One student brought up an article in class that stated that organic foods have no extra or added nutritional value than non-organic. So why pay more for something that is basically the same?
-How can buyers know that their food supply is safe? The panelists recommended that we as buyers should ask a lot of questions of our purveyors, including asking where it comes from, how it is handled, grown, cleaned, etc. All very important questions. They also stressed that before signing contracts and doing business with vendors, we should go and take tours of their facilities. We saw pictures of Baldor's facilities - oh my goodness! They were incredibly clean! That is how they all should be. You want to make sure that you are getting the best for your customers.
- In what areas have vendors seen the most growth or demand? Local-only products are gaining popularity and so are all-natural products. They have seen a jump in pre-portioned and value-added products as well. Buying something pre-portioned will help restaurants cut costs and save time.
- It was recommended that if we ever become food business owners, we should only have about one to two vendors that we buy from. If we have larger accounts with them instead of spreading our money out between several vendors, we will become more important customers. We will also have the opportunity to create strong relationships, which is always important.
-Buying at Costco, Wal-mart, Sam's Club, etc. for business purposes should be avoided. If we have time to nickel-and-dime shop at these big clubs, we shouldn't be in business. Any extra time we have should be spent working in the kitchen on new menus or making our business stronger. I liked this point and thought it was pretty valid.
*A few interesting facts I learned about my school:
-Our food budget for the year is $6 million!!! That is huge, then again, we make more food than most other college's cafeterias do!
-Our buyer orders about 780,000 eggs a year!
- We receive produce from over 30 farms in the area.
I thought the summit was great advice, although a little lengthy at two hours long! Hopefully I will be able to take this new knowledge with me in the future.