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Expanding your fish specials

Question:

I would like to have more fresh fish specials. Should I continue to purchase from my current local suppliers or would it be wise to buy direct from larger fish importers?

– Carl Marsh, GM, Stingrays Raw Bar, Inc., Fort Meyers Beach, FL

Answer:

Your seafood distributor serves as a middleman, which may raise the price of the product. Let’s look at what you are paying the distributor to do, at least in a perfect world:

  • Source a variety of product.
  • Prepare/fabricate the product to your specifications.
  • Deliver product at a mutually agreeable time at a safe temperature.
  • And most importantly, have the buying power to get quality seafood at a reasonable price so they can sell it to you for a profit and you, in turn, can sell it to your guests for further profit.

Size matters. The main advantage to buying directly from an importer or producer is to cut out the middlemen and their associated costs. Laura Di Rosa of New Orleans Fish House, a New Orleans-based seafood purveyor mentions a set of hurdles to buying direct:

  • There is usually a high minimum order.
  • You may pay high shipping/freight charges, especially for fresh seafood.

In my experience, there are two models that work well for buying directly.  The first is a high-volume operation or multi-unit company that uses a lot of one particular item, especially if it’s frozen.  For example, a high-volume shrimp house that sources specific shrimp for multiple menu items and blows through a couple hundred pounds per day may be well-served by buying directly.  The second model is where you strike a deal for a premium or specialty item that is unavailable through local distributors.  In this model the premium product and the competitive advantage of being the only place in town with the item may justify the expense.  
 
Another option would be to take a lesson from institutional foodservice and form a group buying organization with some other foodservice operations.  Finally if you are not happy with the selection your distributors offer, ask them for what you want.  They may be able to source something new and different and save you the challenge.

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