Editor's Plate: Who Are the Best Suppliers?

There’s a lot of collective wisdom in the voices of 416 food industry professionals.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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That headline's a good question, isn't it? The answer could rocket your business to the top of its market. But the answer is complex. It's probably difficult enough for you to decide which of your suppliers are best in their categories. Who are the best suppliers to your competition? What's the opinion of the countless other ones out there?

What if you could draw upon the collective wisdom of 400 or so food industry professionals? Then you'd really have some insight. Then you'd have our Readers' Choice Awards.

A good supplier is worth its weight in gold … and silver and bronze. In the article, there are 105 of them in 40 categories of ingredients, equipment and services. Says who? Says you, the 416 readers of this magazine who voted in our fifth annual Readers' Choice Awards survey.

"A couple of years ago, a competitor of ours went out of business just before Christmas. It was great getting the extra orders, but our biggest worry was getting jar lids -- normally the lead time is eight weeks or more." So began one of our comments in last year's survey. Well, the lid supplier to Berner Foods pulled out all the stops and delivered the extra lids on time. Berner made a ton of extra holiday money, thanks to this golden supplier.

While we're missing such case history-like stories this year, we did receive numerous compliments for suppliers. Many of them are on the opening page of this year's Readers' Choice Story, and many more on our web site. A typical one goes: "We are very dependent on the tech departments of our suppliers. All the companies that we have listed offer excellent technical support."

In many stories we do throughout the year, we acknowledge the deepening of relationships between food processors and their vendors, especially where product development meets ingredient suppliers. Every year it seems budgets get tighter and ingredients become more complex. The product development process for many food companies has evolved into one of partnership with ingredient suppliers.

"The factor that distinguishes the truly great suppliers from the rest is the level of technical support they provide," writes another respondent on the ingredient-buying end of this business, who added that his suppliers are "good to excellent."

"[A cheese and whey ingredients company] has been wonderful working with us to meet our needs and to develop new items," says one. "The supplier base is very supportive and innovative. I am very satisfied overall," writes another.

While the relationship between plant operations and its suppliers may not be quite so intimate, we received similarly glowing reports from the steel toe-shoe people. Many of you know which conveyor lines seem to run problem-free; which food-grade lubricants last longest; which metal detectors are most accurate without driving you crazy. It's this collective wisdom we try to tap each year in these Readers' Choice Awards.

Selecting a vendor can be tough, especially today when funding is tight and just choosing an adequate supplier no longer suffices. Even if you regularly turn to a particular firm and are relatively happy with it, are you sure that company really provides the best product?

If you don't have extensive experience in a specific area, how do you choose? Considering true cost, reliability, performance and any other factor critical to your business, whose opinion do you want? Your purchasing department's? Local sales reps? The Internet?

How about several hundred of your fellow food industry professionals? That's who gets to vote in Food Processing's Readers' Choice Awards. However, because more respondents have experience with companies that have higher market shares, the results are inevitably biased toward those larger companies. And impressions certainly can be influenced by marketing and advertising campaigns.

There certainly are small companies that won't make it into these rankings no matter how excellent their value just because they are relatively unknown. If you have favorite, smaller suppliers, consider yourself fortunate and don't be concerned they aren't in our Readers' Choice Awards.

Nevertheless, there's a lot of collective wisdom in the voices of 416 food industry professionals. We thank all those respondents who took the time to fill out the ballots and often included additional comments. And we encourage you to save these pages so, when the time comes for you to look for a new supplier, you have a couple hundred recommendations to work from.

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