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What to Look For in a Wholesale Spice Company

Not all wholesale spice companies are created equal and choosing one to be not only a good supplier but a great partner is critical to your business. It’s often said that there are three key elements you have to choose from – quality products, customer service and price.

It is impossible to get all three. Companies that tell you that you’ll get the highest quality product, the best customer service known to man and the lowest price possible are well… lying. You can expect a company to be strong in two out of the three areas but it is not realistic or practical to find one that has all three.

3 Possible Scenarios
Here are your three possible options when looking at a potential wholesale spice company or evaluating your current supplier:

Option 1 – their quality might be top notch and they have a very low price. But they won’t be able to afford to provide their customers with great customer service (I didn’t say just barely acceptable customer service but great). They won’t be able to afford it.

Option 2 – they might be able to provide really good service and a very competitive price. But the quality of their spices will be less than amazing. You’ll find their spices to not be very vibrant in color and possess little to no aroma. This tends to mean an older spice.

Option 3 – here you’ll find over the top customer service and tremendous quality but not rock bottom pricing. Here the company has made the choice that service and quality are the best drivers for establishing a long term business relationship.

This is certainly the easiest of the three areas against which to measure potential suppliers. While there are some subtle nuances it is pretty straight forward.

What is the price per pound? You can then compare supplier A to supplier B. Not too difficult. But you’ll want to know if they charge freight for their orders. And also, where are they located if they do charge freight (the further you are, the more expensive the inbound freight will be). This is because when comparing apples (supplier A has free freight) to oranges (supplier B charges freight) you want to know what is the landed cost is to your door so you can make the most informed decision.

This one is a bit trickier than price, as all potential suppliers will tell you that their quality is the best, the freshest or second to none. Only you can really judge the truth to this statement by trying the product. Some of the things you’ll need to look for:

Do the spices have a deep rich and vibrant color?

Are they very aromatic?

Can the supplier give you a harvest date?

When was that spice ground?

This last one is especially important when looking at spices that have a high volatile oil content (i.e. pepper, allspice, cumin, coriander, mustard, cardamom, etc) as once ground, the flavor of these spices begins to dissipate a bit quicker than some other ground spices.

You might also like to know how many times does a particular supplier turn their product over? This tells you how long was it was sitting in your supplier’s warehouse before it was shipped).

One of my favorite questions is do they fill to order? This one also lets you know how long something is sitting on a shelf (especially if they are selling multiple sizes). If you see that they’re out-of-stock on one or two sizes but others are still available then you know that they don’t fill to order and you’re not getting the freshest product possible.

At the end of the day you owe it to your company to at least try several suppliers to make sure that they are walking the talk when it comes to spice quality.

Customer Service
This one is probably the hardest of the three to get a handle on. Some of the questions you have to ask yourself are:

How important is great customer service to you?

Do you want to be able to talk to the same person each time you call or need to reach somebody?

Do they do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it (i.e. do they call you back)?

Do they “make things right” in the event there is a mistake (these will happen eventually even if only occasionally)?

Can you reach somebody “up the food chain” if needed?

Do they really “know” you and your business?

Can they help you grow your business (providing information, insight into what others are having success with, etc)?

Do they have a wide diverse selection of products or do they only carry the most common?

How quick can they ship?

How often do you experience back orders?

We’re all ultimately in the customer service business but it’s interesting to see which suppliers really believe this down to their core and show it with their actions.

The Bottom Line
Is there really one perfect supplier? Probably not or at least we haven’t found one yet (although we’ve found several that are pretty darn good). And it’s always a bit dangerous to have all of your eggs in one basket whether it’s having just one supplier or having one of your own customers who does more than 25%-50% of your total business.

You may find that it’s best to have multiple suppliers who match two out of the three criteria that you consider to be the most important. Having several suppliers also doesn’t hurt by having a primary supplier for an individual spice as well as a secondary supplier (who may be your primary supplier for other spices, herbs or chiles) as from time-time all products may go on back order and you sure don’t want to get caught short.

Choosing a good supplier or suppliers is certainly a bit hit and miss but by knowing what to look for you should be able to tell fairly quickly who lives and breathes what they do and who just treats it as a job. If you have any questions on this don’t hesitate to drop Rob a line at rob@spicesinc.com or give him a call at 1-888-762-8642 as he loves to talk about business and spices.


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