Why won’t Chefs buy my olive oil? Take a look inside the Foodservice Hospitality World

Some of our Producers see the Food Industry as a way into this world as easy as sending 2 bottles of their finest olive oil to Rockpool and never hearing from them!  You call and cannot get through and wonder what you did wrong? And even wonder if the food service is even receptive!

However, dealing with the Foodservice industry is much more than that….

Regularly, I have the privilege of talking to some high profile people in the food industry from celebrity chefs to editors of renowned food media outlets. I am even lucky enough to have invited to wine & dine at Parliament house through to meeting the Sicilian Vice-president.

In discussing the Australian Olive Oil Scene and drawing parallels of what goes through the minds of Chefs with their wants, thoughts and in turn “needs” for their business. This brings me to understand that for Aussie Olive Producers to make connections inside the Food Service Industry is a process that can take much work but could be some of the most rewarding work you do.

Seeing a craftsman working with food manipulation and making it into something that not only looks amazing but blows your taste buds away! WOW, You are left… gobsmacked at the talent of some of these people. A craft it is indeed!

Nina Tarasova Patissier, Cake “Caprese”: Sponge cake with basil and olive oil; caramelised in honey tomatoes; strawberry confit; mousse with basil, mozzarella and mascarpone.  Facebook 8th February 2016.

Before talking with anyone in Foodservice there are some truths as an olive producer you need to prepare yourself for….

  1.  COST – Most Chefs are driven by cost especially for their mainstream cooking oils. In essence, they are producing food and reselling to consumers at a nominal price and reap the rewards in their profits. So in the mind of a Chef… Why not buy Rancid oil for $1-$2 per litre? It’s cheap and the profits are big. If your oil is available for $6 – $10/L the Chef automatically pulls the blinds down to any conversation you will ever have. So are you talking mainstream cooking oils or finishing oils or something else? You need to have your product well defined in your mind to be able to pitch it properly.
  2.  VOLUMES – Sometimes Chefs consider the long-term viability of your relationship. Why buy from you when they can order from their nearest distributor/wholesaler and have the product delivered the same day? If the Chef is concerned about this then they may view working with you as more work compared to dealing with a distributor plus they may take into consideration they can order multiple items through one source.
  3. DISTRIBUTORS/WHOLESALERS – If you deal with a distributor/wholesaler there are an array of services they carry out without you even being aware. They already have a distribution chain, marketing plan and have a method of distribution…  All meeting the right compliance for handling food. They will look to deliver the packaged product for distribution right to the door of the end user. They can ship multiple products at any time thereby reducing the cost of shipping oil which otherwise might have been more than the product was worth if you ship it by itself.  Distributors/Wholesalers already deal with HACCP approved freighters (this is a mandatory requirement). So if you are seeking a distributor, please make sure you have sorted a good freight solution that is HACCP approved.  Dealing with a Distributor can have its advantages but you need to find the right distributor.  
  4. ONLINE SERVICES – Services like Find My Rice are readily used by Chefs to locate particular foods.  It is free to list to start some exposure.
  5. FREIGHT – If you are packaging and shipping yourself the costs can be costly if you are using over-the-counter rates of Australia Post or freighters like Toll without a contract can lead to costs for to lodge packages and pay you higher amounts for freight. As an example… One producer in NSW sent 2 x bottles to a Chef one day and they had a call telling them about the bottles that were smashed to smithereens and if they didn’t have another lot by tomorrow they were threatening to sue them. The situation caused a lot of heartache for all involved. Sometimes freight can be compared to one of your worst nightmares. So look at various freight solutions, Sendle is one that has caught my eye recently and may be worth checking out.
  6. PAYMENT TERMS – Some in the food service have shocking turnaround times to pay their bills. If your payment terms don’t suit the Chef then they are not going to want to continue the conversation. Ask them what they are able to commit to in terms of payment terms?
  7. PRODUCT STYLE – Chefs are attuned to food talk so you need to make sure that the olive oil style of your offering is going to suit the style(s) that is required by the Chef. Usually, Chefs demand 3 types of oil. Cooking oil (cheaper version for frying or using large amounts) & Finishing oil which is poured over the dish after it has been prepared (typically before serving). Ask enough questions to work out what the Chef is looking for. If a Chef is looking for a finishing oil they will pay a higher price than a mainstream cooking oil. All Chefs have budgets for premium foods so if you do not have the volume, pitching your product as a finishing oil may be your best chance of being able to supply.

saladThe Food service industry is different to dealing with versus your average consumer. It’s a very demanding industry that is completely price-driven. If you can show Chefs how they can make money out of your product you will have their attention!

For more than 2 years now I am aware Industry has been working closely with chefs to help change some of these mentalities about the virtues of olive oil. We can see the idealism’s shifting towards Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil in this area.  But much more work needs to be done!

Hopefully, as the ‘Hep A berries’ and ‘Toxin-induced Tuna’ dilemmas come to light with embarrassing stories for businesses in the Food Service industry can change their operation from success to a flop overnight.  There is room in this world for ethical food.

I hope this article helps to highlight any areas you were not aware of when dealing with Chefs.  Leave us feedback below about your experiences and what you think you did wrong in the past?

Outcome needed:

  • I would like to see a register of Australian Producers who offer their product to Foodservice.
  • If you are offering your product to foodservice, please send us an email 

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