Are national brand foodservice products worth it?

National brand foodservice products tend to cost a little more.  Are you getting your money’s worth?  Or are less expensive distributor brands the way to go.  Here’s how to decide.

National brand foodservice products video transcript

So out on the street, you hear this all the time… should I pay more for this national brand foodservice product or should they use this distributor brand because I can get a little better deal on it?  What’s your take on all of that these days.

Operators, the smart ones, the ones who are making money… and every chain that I know of… all have specs from a national brand.  But some also spec some distributor brands.

You have to test them both. Once you nail it down… one that works best… best price , quality, works with my recipes all that… make it spec and then get a backup spec just in case something happens.

For example, private labels… those are distributor brands… usually shop around their recipe or formula to different manufacturers.  And usually most distributors have multiple manufacturers that they’ve OK’d to make their product. And then whoever’s got the best price this time… this month… this quarter or maybe this six months gets the business.

The problem with that is just about every manufacturer has different kinds of equipment that they use. And another thing that you don’t think about are the spices that might go in… rubbed on the roast beef, or sugar or garlic or pepper or all those things. Just because there’s a formula doesn’t mean it will always be the same. The manufacture goes out and sources those ingredients to make the product. And they’re all different…. the pepper is different… you know as an operator. It’s all over the board. So there is a good chance that a private label won’t be as consistent as a national brand.

It might be OK this time but if something changes with your recipe… you start getting complaints… or the kitchen says this just isn’t working.  But you go back and look and it’s the same distributor label. That’s probably because a different manufacturer made it this time.

With national brand foodservice products, most of the time your stuff will come from the same plant because of location and everything like that. So once you lock in on a national brand of product it will stay the same most of the time. Not very often do the the national brands change their formulas. They do sometimes… I know salad dressings have been changed at times.  Sometimes, if they’re a Wall Street company, and they need to tighten down on the product to make their numbers… they might cheapen it up a little bit to make more money.

But it doesn’t happen very often… they really stick to it. Especially the big national brands really stick to their formulas because the product has been a steady Eddie or oldie-but-goodie that’s been around for 20 years and they don’t want to change the good thing that’s going on.

So to boil it down, if you’re trying to save money by using a distributor label, and you really have done your homework and tested that product and you like it and the price is right… then buy it. But if you want an insurance policy, a national brand is a good way to go. Again, you might want to start with your top most-used 20 items we often talk about.

What you should do pretty regularly is check your specs whether it’s distributor label, national brand and test them against each other. Distributors, most the time really want to sell their labels. And so it’s just a good idea for an operator to keep testing your most used products all the time. Cut them against the distribuutor labels and the national brands. You’ll be surprised that sometimes they’re close and sometimes they’re not close at all.  You’ll start wondering what was I thinking all to save five dollars per case. No wonder I’m barely making any money.

Is it fair to say, too, that the distributors have done a great job in terms of marketing their own products?  I mean sometimes you may not even realize a particular product is a distributor brand.

I’ll say 50 percent of the operators that I meet don’t know that they’re using a distributor label. It’s a distributor brand that could have been around now for 15 years.

If it’s always worked great, keep buying it.

You just have to be aware of where the products are all coming from.

Yeah in some cases the national brands are our packing the distributor brand with the same product. I always hear that it’s a different formulas used in the distributor brand. In some cases, the sales reps don’t even know who the manufacturer is. So when you ask your rep who’s packing the product, the rep may not have the right information. And distributor management sort of likes it that way because they don’t want you ask them who’s doing packing. Brand X used to pack it a few years ago… but you may never hear when the distributor changed suppliers.