The quality work of distributors

Procurement of ingredients and raw materials can be done in many ways. There are agents, exporters and importers. One way is to go through a distributor. But why should you do that? In this article, we will look at the quality work you may avoid if you buy from a distributor.

9 June 2020 •

In the arti­cle Farm-to-prod­uct: Value chain of ste­via we delved into ste­vias jour­ney from fields far away, to become a pow­er­ful sweet­en­er in your prod­ucts. At the end of the arti­cle, we came to the con­clu­sion that dis­trib­u­tors may be the best alter­na­tive to buy raw mate­ri­als from. But how do dis­trib­u­tors work to ensure quality?

What does a distributor do?

Distributors buy and sell ingre­di­ents from a sup­pli­er to a food man­u­fac­tur­er. Their role in the val­ue chain is to sup­ply food pro­duc­ers with qual­i­ty ingre­di­ents of con­sis­tent qual­i­ty no mat­ter where the ingre­di­ents may come from.

They, there­fore, devote a lot of time to build­ing net­works with dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers to ensure deliv­ery. But they are also work­ing on qual­i­ty man­age­ment with regards to sup­pli­ers, the sup­ply chain and ingre­di­ents. They also repack­age goods so that food pro­duc­ers gets the right quan­ti­ties in their pro­duc­tion. In some cas­es, they also mix or process ingre­di­ents. The sup­pli­ers can be man­u­fac­tur­ers in or out­side the EU, exporters out­side the EU or importers in the EU.

Impartial control

In addi­tion to com­ply­ing with cur­rent reg­u­la­tions and leg­is­la­tions in the food indus­try, all seri­ous play­ers in the sup­ply chain allow an extern and inde­pen­dent part to make an audit on them, a so-called third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Distributors are no excep­tion to this. We will take a clos­er look at what a third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion means.

What is a third-party certification?

A third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a qual­i­ty sys­tem per­formed by an inde­pen­dent part. These cer­ti­fi­ca­tions have nat­u­ral­ly emerged around Europe to ensure high qual­i­ty. For exam­ple, we have the British BRC Global Standard Food Safety which comes from the British Retail Consortium and the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC), which is owned by the Foundation for Food Safety Certification, which is based in the Netherlands.

How do I know if a third-party certification is any good?

Third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tions have how­ev­er var­ied in qual­i­ty. Hence the emer­gence of GFSI. With the help of GFSI, you can ensure that a third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is suf­fi­cient­ly com­pre­hen­sive and detailed. If the GFSI-eval­u­a­tion finds that it’s not, it will not be approved.

With the help of GFSI, a dis­trib­u­tor can eas­i­ly find out if a sup­pli­er meets the requirements.

What is GFSI?

GFSI stands for Global Food Safety Initiative. GFSI start­ed in the year of 2000 by a net­work of food pro­duc­ers under the name The Consumer Goods Forum. GFSI’s over­all goal is to improve food safe­ty in the indus­try. A part of GFSI’s work is to review and rec­og­nize the vol­un­tary qual­i­ty sys­tems (third par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tions) that exist in the industry.

What requirements?

But what require­ments are addressed in a third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion? These include, for exam­ple, hygiene rules, pest con­trol, trace­abil­i­ty and aller­gens. The fact that the sup­pli­er to a dis­trib­u­tor has a GFSI cer­ti­fied third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a pre­req­ui­site for the dis­trib­u­tor to gain con­fi­dence in the supplier.

Does that make a third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that is non-GFSI cer­ti­fied worthless?

No, then the dis­trib­u­tor can do their own review of the sup­pli­er. This is done with the help of a HACCP plan.


If a sup­pli­er has a third-par­ty cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that is not GFSI cer­ti­fied, the sup­pli­er can present their HACCP plan to the dis­trib­u­tor. HACCP is a stan­dard­ized method with­in the EU. It is a map­ping and con­trol method of food pro­duc­tion in order to make the final prod­uct safe for the consumer.

Using a HACCP plan, the dis­trib­u­tor eval­u­ates whether the sup­pli­er has suf­fi­cient con­trol over the man­u­fac­tur­ing process and any hazards.

Further doc­u­men­ta­tion may con­sist of a Code of Conduct where the dis­trib­u­tor ensures that they have a unan­i­mous view with the sup­pli­er regard­ing work­ing con­di­tions, child labour and human rights, among oth­er things.

We ask a distributor

So far we have only talked about qual­i­ty in terms of what leg­is­la­tors require - that is, min­i­mum lev­els in terms of hygiene and pests, aller­gens and trace­abil­i­ty. But how do dis­trib­u­tors ensure the qual­i­ty of the actu­al ingredients?

– Suppliers pro­vide us a raw mate­r­i­al spec­i­fi­ca­tion (RMS) that is often inad­e­quate. That’s why we ask a lot of sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions about the raw mate­r­i­al, says Nina Djerf, Quality & Environmental Manager at Engelhardt & Co.

It’s not only the supplier’s data on raw mate­ri­als that are col­lect­ed and doc­u­ment­ed by dis­trib­u­tors. Collecting cus­tomer needs are equal­ly important.

– We ask our cus­tomers what require­ments they have on their ingre­di­ents. We break that down into a require­ment spec­i­fi­ca­tion that we can then match with the ingre­di­ents, says Nina Djerf.

It may seem a bit strange. Are not most ingre­di­ents gener­ic? Sunflower seeds from one sup­pli­er must be inter­change­able with sun­flower seeds from anoth­er one with­out any prob­lems. Right?

– No, Nina Djerf replies. It’s very impor­tant to know what the prod­uct or raw mate­r­i­al is intend­ed for. Even prod­ucts that may seem inter­change­able. If you work with seeds for mues­li it is one thing, if its seeds on a piece of bread its anoth­er thing. You sim­ply have to know your product.

Friend at court

So what’s the point of buy­ing ingre­di­ents from a dis­trib­u­tor? Isn’t it more con­ve­nient to go direct­ly to the source? That way you don’t have anoth­er mid­dle hand that wants part of the deal, right?

If you buy large quan­ti­ties and are pre­pared to do much of the qual­i­ty work your­self, this may be the case. But for every­one else, a com­pe­tent dis­trib­u­tor will facil­i­tate the qual­i­ty work for you.

The dis­trib­u­tor approves the importer or sup­pli­er, ensures that the ingre­di­ent is safe and that it meets the require­ments you have as a food producer.

A helping hand

We are an importer of ste­via extract and pro­duc­er of sweet­ened fibre. We sell these ingre­di­ents through dis­trib­u­tors. Please con­tact us and we will tell you which dis­trib­u­tors we have in your country.

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