Wholesale distributors play a key role in the food system by purchasing, aggregating, and transporting large volumes of food and distributing it to their customers. Distributors typically sell to one or more of the following groups:

  • Independent and chain restaurants
  • Institutions such as schools, universities, and hospitals
  • Retailers and grocery stores
  • Corporate cafeterias
  • Catering companies

By nature, distributors are the intermediate step in the supply chain between farmers and consumers, making a distributor a door through which farmers and producers can reach many customers and market opportunities. As a farmer or producer, selling product to a distributor offers a variety of benefits:

  • You can sell larger volumes of product more efficiently than selling directly to consumers.
  • You can reduce the time and resources spent on marketing directly to consumers to focus more on production.
  • You can access different markets to increase sales volume and brand presence.

Although the benefits may be great, working with a distributor comes with challenges and requirements that are very different from those of direct marketing. On-farm operations, product packaging, marketing, pricing, food safety certifications, and logistics are all components that need to be carefully considered to create a successful relationship with a distributor.

In this publication, NC State Extension provides guidance to farmers and producers who are considering selling to distributors. This information will be useful to owners of small and medium-sized farms who have not previously sold their products to a distributor.