Food suppliers are the heart of your business. Food hubs and aggregation platforms help support local food production and connect food suppliers to their communities. It's a win-win relationship for both the hub and the producers. To run a thriving food hub, you must have a robust and ongoing relationship.
Before looking for your suppliers, define your business goals. Why are you starting a food hub, and what do you want to achieve?
With every new venture, you must first map out your goals. Food hubs are the future of food. They connect small, local food producers to their communities by providing a curated selection of products. Ask yourself, why am I starting/running a food hub? What are my reasons for doing it? Whatever your drive is - this should seep into every other aspect of your business. Stories sell - so make sure to know yours before pitching to food suppliers.
Once you determine your reason, it is time to set your goals. How many customers do you want to reach or how many suppliers do you want to have? Your goals can differ based on your business. Remember, success cannot be measured if you have nothing to attain. Setting your intentions and goals can help you refine your search to be business-specific.
The next big step is sourcing your suppliers. Always remember your reasons and goals in order to connect with suppliers that can help you achieve them. You want to build a product list that attracts all types of customers. A good rule to go by is to be able to service all dietary needs, such as vegans and meat-eaters. This increases the range of customers you can service. Also, look for suppliers that grow/produce with the seasons. If you only sell in the summer/fall months, you are losing the exposure gained in the 6 months you are not selling.
There are many different ways to find suppliers for your food hub. Based upon your connections, the ease of this task may vary. The best way to find suppliers is to talk to people! Word of mouth can be a powerful tool. Having a good pitch and the ability to service multiple suppliers will definitely pique their interest.
To help you get started, here are some ways to source suppliers:
Farmers' markets are a hub of different farmers and food suppliers. Many businesses first start selling at farmers' markets as a way to reach more customers. Often, they are looking for alternative selling channels to increase their sales. Ask to put up an advertisement in the member's newsletter, and walk around and talk to members! Often many food hubs start at a farmers' market.
Many farmers and food producers take courses and certificate programs to learn more about the industry and improve their businesses. These individuals are looking for new ways to increase their growth; therefore, they are often open to new selling channels. Ask instructors to send around promotional material or attend a course yourself! Local food is all about making connections and talking to people!
Similar to farmers' markets and courses, it is essential to get out there and talk to people. Industry events can be a great place to network, present your pitch, and attract new suppliers. Considering connecting with existing food hub managers is another good avenue. It can be beneficial to find a mentor if you are a new-time operator. They may also have some helpful tips for finding more suppliers!
Forums and Community
Farming and the local food industry, in general, are all about community and working together to benefit the greater good. It is also an excellent place for connection! Talking to other industry members is a great way to learn new ways to grow food, market your products, and receive advice from knowledgeable individuals. Consider visiting online forums and Facebook pages, and connect! This can be a great way to meet new suppliers.
Whatever your method, finding suppliers for your business is a demanding task. Remember to start small and take incremental steps. Developing a successful business takes time and effort. Trying various methods will help you find a clear path. Don't get discouraged and enjoy the process!