How To Sell Produce To A Foodservice Buyer/Part III

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

This is the third of a three-part series looking at the unique challenges both small and large foodservice operations face in getting product into their operation.

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuLast month I gave insights from chefs working for major volume foodservice operations on what they want from their produce suppliers‭. ‬This month, I’m focusing on recommendations for selling produce to foodservice buyers‭. ‬These insights are based on conversations I’ve had with buyers from a variety of foodservice operations‭, ‬including campus dining operations and large chains‭, ‬as well as buyers for large contract foodservice organizations‭.‬

I mentioned last month, there are two themes that run through all comments I receive‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬communication and collaboration‭. ‬Chefs want this‭, ‬and so do their buyers‭. ‬

Build Relationships

Nobody really wants to be sold‭, ‬but most everyone wants to enjoy the process‭. ‬Events like the PMA Foodservice Conference show the power of the relationship‭. ‬More time is spent on field and facility tours and at local golf courses than in sessions or the exhibit halls‭. ‬This is because ‬great produce companies and their sales team know it’s important to build relationships with the people making purchasing decisions‭. ‬We all like doing business with people we know and trust‭. ‬Think about what more you can do to enhance relationships with the foodservice buyers‭.‬

Provide Experiences

A golf outing is great for building the relationship‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬you get to know your customer’s kids’‭ ‬names‭, ‬where they vacation‭, ‬and you can start joking about each other’s golf swings ‮…‬‭ ‬or misses‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬but a field tour is much more powerful‭. ‬The bottom line is that showing is always better than telling‭.

Can you make the buying process easier by clarifying the specification process?

Show the buyers you work with how you grow the product‭. ‬I’m always shocked by how many chefs and buyers tell me they’ve never been in a field or orchard‭. ‬People who work with or buy the product every day may have very little understanding of how‭ ‬you grow‭, ‬pack and ship produce‭.‬

Walk the buyers through the rows‭. ‬Talk about crop inputs like irrigation or crop protection products‭. ‬Show them how you work to‭ ‬ensure food safety‭. ‬Invite them to talk with your farmers‭, ‬field workers and harvest crews‭. ‬Talk about harvest and packing innovation‭. ‬Walk them through your packing houses‭, ‬cold storage environments and distribution centers‭.

Don’t hesitate to talk about the challenges of growing your product given climate change‭, ‬water shortages‭, ‬new threats to yield and‭ ‬quality‭, ‬and how you’re dealing with the challenges from Mother Nature and beyond‭. ‬Growing‭, ‬packing and shipping produce is not easy‭, ‬and your customers need to know how you’re dealing with endless challenges to bring safe‭, ‬high-quality produce to market‭.‬

Do you work with a seed company developing new varieties for your operation‭? ‬Take your customers on tours of the seed company’s operation‭. ‬Does your vendor offer field days‭? ‬Ask if you can invite customers to join you so you can all see the new varieties‭, ‬talk to the breeders and most importantly‭, ‬taste new varieties you may be able to bring to market in the future‭. ‬

Sell Solutions

While it may seem like all buyers want is to snag the lowest cost‭, ‬most are very interested in products that help them and their‭ ‬operation solve challenges‭. ‬I’ve talked extensively about the labor challenges in foodservice‭. ‬If you have an idea for‭, ‬or are already offering‭, ‬a new value-added product‭, ‬talk to the buyer about this option‭. ‬He/she may be eager to help the operations team reduce labor costs‭.‬

Do you have options for increasing shelf-life‭? ‬If so‭, ‬talk to your customers about these innovations‭. ‬Decreasing delivery frequency may be a benefit for certain operations‭, ‬and reducing food waste is a benefit for every organization‭.‬

Can you make the buying process easier by clarifying the specification process‭? ‬Do you have visual guides to help a buyer specify degrees of ripeness‭? ‬Can you specify if your product is harvested at a certain brix level‭? ‬Can you help buyers identify which‭ ‬produce items may be genetically modified and which are developed only through traditional or advanced breeding techniques‭? ‬Confusion over GMOs in produce is making the lives of some buyers quite complicated right now‭.‬

Finally‭, ‬can you provide lower-cost product by selling the foodservice buyer‭ ‬“ugly”‭ ‬fruits and vegetables‭? ‬Foodservice doesn’t need perfect produce‭. ‬If you have great quality in terms of flavor‭, ‬but challenges with appearance‭, ‬talk to buyers about special pricing‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative. You can learn more about her business at, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller.