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How to Become a Food Distributor

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At first glance, you may not think food distribution is a romantic way to make a living, but pick up any history book and find stories of merchants roaming towns and villages with figs, dates, pomegranates, spices, wheat and other foodstuffs on the backs of their beasts of burden. Over time, the job of food distributor even became part of history: a lot of tea went into Boston's harbor. Choose this career and you'll join legions of purveyors who feed the world. What other job description can make this claim?

Decide on the type of food you'll distribute. Whether it's bakery goods, meat, produce, packaged foods or another category, your choice will impact the amount of space you'll need and the equipment (refrigeration, etc.) required. Visit existing distributorships to see how their space is apportioned, stock is inventoried and pick and pack tasks are arranged.

Rent a warehouse capable of housing your business. Many large cities have "districts" that group seafood, produce and meat distributorships in the same neighborhood. The advantage of such a community is that available buildings will have adequate loading dock space and may already be racked for food storage or have commercial refrigeration in place.

Contact local health authorities, zoning boards and other government offices to apply for licenses, permits and other documentation required to set up shop. You may be asked to show proof of insurance, and don't limit your coverage to liability. A flood, fire or other disaster could put you out of business fast, so don't skimp on protection.

Develop a source list. For example, if you're distributing produce, contact commercial growers in your area to get commitments for crops. Save money by contracting with overseas growers, but factor in shopping costs that will impact your profit margin. In either case, sign agreements that spell out your responsibilities as the distributor and that of the grower(s). Have an attorney vet each contract to protect you and your business.

Make sales calls to retail grocers and shops in your area. Set up agreed-to delivery times and days, keep in touch with department managers regularly since seasonal product changes and consumer buying habits fluctuate. Stand ready to make emergency deliveries if a store runs low on product. Remember that communication is the key to success in this field, so make frequent contact with retail customers to build a relationship that lasts.

Tip

Inquire into area food distributorships currently on the market if you don't want to start from scratch. Buy one and you'll have a turnkey business that's up and running. Insist that the distributor's retail client list be part of the deal.

Learn more about food distributorships by writing to the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, 1725 K Street NW (suite 300), Washington, DC 20006-1419 or call (202) 872-0885.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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