"It's very competitive out there, but the suppliers with the trifecta of good price, good quality and good service quickly sort themselves to the top of our list."
Who can argue with that comment from Lissa McBurney of Boston's Dancing Deer Baking Company? And although McBurney is a specifier of ingredients, the same holds true for the buyers (and suppliers) of equipment and services in the food and beverage industry.
"With the ever increasing consumer awareness around food safety, equipment suppliers must continually improve the processes for maintenance and sanitation of their equipment," adds a plant ops executive from a Canadian meat processor. That's a good point for all equipment fabricators to remember.
Those comments typify the responses to our eighth annual Readers' Choice Awards survey. As we have in the past, we sent e-mail surveys to a subset of our circulation list between Thanksgiving of 2009 and New Year's. We got 227 responses back. This year, for the first time, we also took votes on our web site. After culling ineligible ballots, that added a few dozen more votes.
No supplier names were suggested; the form is an unaided recall survey. Voters represent all categories of the food and beverage industry. There are two separate surveys: one for our subscribers primarily involved in specifying processing and packaging equipment and a separate one for those buying ingredients and flavors. Also as usual, we got more votes in the ingredient categories than in the equipment and services ones. The winners in 11 categories of nutraceutical ingredients will be unveiled in the April issue in our Wellness Foods section.
Interestingly, very few of the comments made any mention of the tough times of the past year. As usual, the positive comments far out numbered the negative ones.
"Great ingredients are the first step to a great product," said a guy at a Pennsylvania cheese maker. "All the companies we use make great products."
"Overall I would say customer service is excellent," wrote a man at an East Coast company. "The industry as a whole suffered a black eye with the recent peanut salmonella issue in Georgia. We need to be able to rely on our suppliers to be truthful when they provide their [certificate of analysis] and other test data."
"We are very satisfied with the ability of our suppliers to provide pilot equipment/services to support technology evaluations and development," wrote a man at a canning company, who asked not to be identified. But elaborating over the phone, he said his favorite suppliers are those who agree to set up pilot equipment at the supplier's facility or loan or rent his company equipment to run under its own roof, so he can test new models or find process or energy efficiencies. "If the equipment works and they make it easy for us to scale up, those are the suppliers we eventually buy from," he added.
"Ninety percent of the companies we do business with understand the value of customer service and personal relationships. Their responsiveness, willingness to start small and build and their technical support keep us going back to them project after project," said a Florida maker of consumer baked goods toppings.
"All of the companies that I wrote in are outstanding in product, price and overall excellent customer service. I cannot say enough good things about them," said another.
"Most companies are very helpful. Our flavor, gum and starch companies are very helpful and prompt. They are always willing to give the extra push to make your project go through," wrote yet another.
"Food safety is so big – it's important to have a good supplier who understands that," commented an anonymous respondent.
Despite all those great compliments, there were some suggestions for improvement:
- "Many suppliers are waiting for us (the customer) to call them, especially those on a preferred suppliers list," lamented one R&D guy.
- "Always work with R&D to narrow choices (more focus) rather than overloading the R&D contact with samples," said a product developer at General Mills.
- "We could always use more information on their products, especially on efficacy study/clinical study," said another R&D technician.
- "Having replacement parts on hand is very important" to a guy at a ConAgra plant.
- "[Service] is OK; I just wish the prices would come down a little," said a Colorado cheese cake maker.
- At least one respondent was downright critical: "Customer service is down overall. It has been declining over the past 15 years that I have been doing the purchasing at my company," said an ingredient buyer at a sauces and dressings company.
But the overwhelming majority paint an encouraging picture of suppliers that are key components of the success of food & beverage companies. So we congratulate the 87 suppliers that were selecte. And we thank all the food and beverage processors who took the time to fill out this survey.
Turn to the next few pages to see who received the most votes for the 2010 Readers' Choice Awards.
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