"Customer service ranks above price in most categories. We have some excellent equipment that we would not buy again because of service."
That comment from Fred Mendel of Ralcorp's Lancaster, Ohio, plant pretty much sums up most of the comments in this year's Readers' Choice Awards survey. Respondents generally seemed satisfied with the 40 categories of ingredients, equipment and services featured. But customer service repeatedly came up -- sometimes as a compliment, sometimes as a criticism and often as a caution -- in numerous written comments.
"If I cannot get service and delivery, your price cannot make up for this," writes a plant operations guy from central Illinois.
"Customer service seems to have decreased over the past few years, despite tougher competition," according to a respondent at a California canned vegetables company "We are charged more for services and samples that previously were gratis."
Take this comment from an R&D reader at an East Coast company: "We have a preferred supplier list, but you don't see very many of the sales reps with the preferred supplier companies. They expect you to call them, which is rather disappointing. We have several preferred vendors for flavors. I only see one of them on a regular basis, haven't seen one of them for three months and the other for six months. Something isn't right with this."
Or this one, from Jennifer Aleshire, senior food technologist at ice cream and frozen novelties maker Turtle Mountain LLC in Eugene, Ore.: "The thing that upsets me is when larger companies won't work with us because our volumes are smaller, or we have very specific requirements and they don't want to take the time to revamp something for the volume. And I am not talking small-small volumes, but definitely smaller than the 'big guys.' What those ingredient suppliers need to understand is that we will be a big guy one day. The big guys didn't start out big. So I would say to those companies: Don't cut off your nose to spite your face."
"They seem to be slipping," says another respondent. "Customer service overall is marginal at best," writes another. "Improvement is still needed. Too much voice mail. We need a human voice who can answer questions promptly."
Despite all those critical words about customer service, the overwhelming majority of respondents who took the time to write in comments were very satisfied with their suppliers. We had a total of 143 unscripted comments (nearly two-thirds of them were from users primarily of ingredients); 76 of them were positive and only 12 were truly critical.
"Customer service is excellent. We are very satisfied overall," writes a reader from Oregon.
"I have finally found two suppliers that are in touch with my needs and requirements to produce our products," comments John from Minnesota. "They understand that we need the right product at the right time and to top-quality specifications. They have become our partners."
Of course, not everyone's in agreement. Especially in the area of true innovation: "Service is good -- but nothing's really new," says a man at a Virginia bakery. "Nobody is taking any risks with new designs. Products lack innovative changes. Much is the same old thing."
Why we do this
A lot of magazines and organizations give awards, but Food Processing's annual Readers' Choice Awards are truly special … because they come directly from our readers, the users of these 40 categories of equipment and ingredients. Every company mentioned in the next four pages -- not just the first-place winners -- rightly can be proud because they were pulled from memory and first-hand experience by the readers of this magazine.
The result on these next four pages is a who's-who of suppliers. If you're not entirely happy with a supply arrangement or are looking for a vendor in a new category of equipment or ingredients, this is a good place to look for a replacement.
While we intend to name first-, second- and third-place winners in each category, we don't acknowledge any company that doesn't receive at least 5 percent of the votes in its category.
Our fifth annual Readers' Choice Awards survey was taken in late November and December. It was a web-based e-mail survey sent to subscribers of Food Processing for whom we have e-mail addresses. It's actually two surveys: one sent to subscribers who indicate they have purchasing authority in ingredients and the other to those who specify equipment and services. It's also an unaided recall survey, meaning we do not suggest company names, but readers simply fill in the blanks.
We received a total of 416 responses, pretty evenly divided between equipment and ingredients. Almost all categories received more than 100 votes, and some had 180-185 votes.
Our thanks to the 416 readers who voted and often took the extra time to provide additional comments. And our congratulations to the 105 vendors who are doing an admirable job of keeping the food supply safe, innovative and economical.
Download the results found at the top of the page.