Old 07-12-2010, 08:42 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 418
Grocery suppliers?

So i have this idea for a store, and i am just kinda dinking around gathering information, but one thing seems to elude me.

I can find suppliers for almost anything....except groceries.

I've found wholesalers for knock offs, but never name brand stuff.

Where do grocery stores get their products? Is there some sort of super supplier who has all the merchandise, or do they literally have to contact all of the companies they want to carry and buy directly.
Old 07-12-2010, 09:12 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 27,167
I used to work in the large-scale supermarket industry and my ex-wife's family is in the gourmet foods wholesale business. There are grocery wholesalers everywhere in the country. It is impossible to deal with each manufacturer individually. This is a complex question that requires both contacts and contracts but get into. It can be complicated. Very small stores sometimes just buy their products from a place like Sam's Club. There are different levels of consolidators above that for larger stores that usually require minimum orders for delivery with price breaks for larger orders. Even name-brand supermarket chains usually have outside vendors deliver and stock everything from soft drinks to potato chips to batteries and light bulbs and even name-brand milk.

What are you looking to do exactly?
Old 07-12-2010, 09:37 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 418
Originally Posted by Shagnasty View Post
What are you looking to do exactly?
Without going into too much detail. Basically an "upscale" Wal-mart.
Old 07-13-2010, 01:14 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Just east of Music City
Posts: 5,726
Reaching back into my file of job experiences, I've been on both ends of the supply chain.

In the early eighties, I worked for a small town, mom & pop grocery. We had a grocery wholesaler who delivered probably half of what was on our shelves. We went to a local wholesale for things like produce and slow moving or special order stuff. Then there was the bread man, the Hostess guy, the L'eggs pantyhose woman, the donut man and the potato chip man. Milk and other dairy was delivered three times a week from a local dairy. Cigarettes and candy came in through another company. Soft drinks were delivered and stocked by their respective companies. OTC drugs, first aid supplies, toiletries and cosmetics had their own vendor. So did magazines and newspapers. You get the picture.

A few years back, I worked for a restaurant supply company that also delivered to a few rural grocery and convenience stores. We obviously weren't their only suppliers, but delivered some items at a more competative price than other wholesalers.

To keep a store's shelves stocked with items that sell takes many vendors.
Old 07-13-2010, 08:53 AM
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Indianapolis
Posts: 2,452
Answering this question: "Where do grocery stores get their products?: for the big chains... the larger national and regional grocery chains maintain their own centralized warehouse(s) and trucking fleet. Suppliers ship pallets or whole trailers of merchandise to these warehouses, which break them down for shipment to individual stores. Larger and favored suppliers (Think P&G or Kraft) have access to internal data from the large chains so they theoretically can respond to upticks and downticks in sales and adjust shipments accordingly. (This ignores the aforementioned vendors who deal with individual stores, and obviates the need to ship fragile or quickly perishable product.) Not sure how co-ops like IGA do it, especially when IGAs can be far-flung and nowhere near a central warehouse.

McLane is an example of the kind of thing smaller chains, independents, and specialty stores use, and probably is the kind of thing you'd be looking for. The aforementioned vendors (soda companies, bread/snack cake bakeries, snack chip companies) all maintain their own product and stocking, and grocery distribution companies like McLane fill the role that in-house warehouse/distribution takes care of for big chains. You can source most name brand and generic food, health-food, candy/gum, tobacco, OTC, and HBA products through them, and they do carry a lot of high-end and import products that you wouldn't expect to see in a Wal-Mart.

Last edited by Student Driver; 07-13-2010 at 08:54 AM.
Old 07-13-2010, 09:24 AM
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Quantum foam
Posts: 24,266
Originally Posted by TNWPsycho View Post
Without going into too much detail. Basically an "upscale" Wal-mart.
Ah ... Target.

Old 07-13-2010, 12:52 PM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 13,340
Originally Posted by NoClueBoy View Post
Ah ... Target.

Pronounced "Tahr-zhey"
Old 07-13-2010, 06:16 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 13,688
There are about 20 grocery wholesalers, who supply about half of the grocery stores in the US.

The biggest regular wholesalers are SuperValu, Fleming, C&S, & Nash Finch. They are now facing a lot of competition from the discounters, with Wal-Mart/Sams Club, SuperTarget, CostCo, etc. adding groceries and eating into the regular supermarket sales. Also some grocery chains (Kroger, Safeway, Publx, etc.) are large enough to have their own distribution network and buy directly from suppliers.
Old 07-15-2010, 05:20 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: temperate forest
Posts: 6,735
Then there are (or were 20 years ago) wholesalers that concentrate on organic/'natural'/vegetarian foods. (Since you're mentioning 'upscale' this seemed relevant). I don't know how much organic/vegetarian stuff SuperValu carries these days, or whether specialty naturalfoods wholesalers still really exist these days.
The sort-of-upscale store I was familiar with had two major wholesalers, one for natural foods and one for, um, unnatural foods. I think another for dairy, and produce was through a separate division of one of the wholesalers. Then there were a few different bread guys/gals, plus the hummus guy, the magazines guy, the locally-made pies guy, and a few others.

Of course, Wal-Mart itself is their own wholesaler (and even their own trucking company). They buy in multi-rail car lots direct from the manufacturer, break them up and truck to warehouses in multi-pallet-size lots, then break those up and truck out to their individual stores in case-to-pallet size lots. I assume they still have bread vendors come in to each store, but wouldn't be surprised if a lot of that kind of stuff is delivered to Wal-Mart wholesale at the warehouse level.
Old 07-15-2010, 05:33 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 753
I think there are some 'specialist' middle-men. Americold (http://americoldrealty.com/) is one that comes to mind; a distibutor of frozen foods. They are more of a shipping & storage service-provider.

Also, don't some of the big vendors deliver directly? I'm pretty sure I've seen Coke and Pepsi employees stocking shelves at the chain supermarket.

Last edited by UncleFred; 07-15-2010 at 05:33 PM.

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