Ordering direct from a wholesale supplier or local farmer is very different from buying food in a shop, and it’s important to get it right or you could end up with a lot of wasted produce.
For example, potatoes usually come in 25kg sacks, and apples in 13kg crates. For some types of produce these sizes can change from one week to the next, so cucumbers may be in a box of 12 one week and a box of 10 the next, which can make it hard to plan. Most suppliers will not want to supply less than a box or sack of anything and if they do have to split a box they will usually charge you more. It will always be cheaper to buy a whole box or sack of each item, so your planning needs to take this into account. Farmers may be hard to get hold of, so you may need to agree a time slot during the week when you can place your order.
With wholefoods and packaged goods, items will also often come in packs of 10 or 12 (sometimes called a 'case'). If you are buying bulk items then you may have slightly more choice. For example, you may be able to choose between 5kg or 10kg. Many suppliers prefer not to split cases but some will do this on some products.
- To help you order the correct amounts for a weekly stall it is a good idea to keep a record of items sold each week, for example by writing down customer orders or weighing trays of produce before and after the food co-op. With time this might also give you an indication of your customer’s purchase patterns.
- School holidays or other events may also affect your sales, so during these periods you may need to order far less than normal. If you’re outdoors, weather will play a large part, too!
- It is often better to under-order rather than over-order so that you will sell out rather than have waste. It’s also good practice to not order too many similar types of produce (especially when you’re starting out and before you know your customers better - you might not need four different types of cabbages!)
- Try to ensure there is a variety of different types of vegetables - root vegetables, leafy greens, squashes, salads, and lots of different colours. Most veg box schemes try to include 8-10 different varieties in a large box.
- Decide your position on potatoes! Many boxes always include potatoes, and other standards like onions and carrots, but all the other items should vary from one week to the next. A few veg box schemes specifically offer a 'no potatoes' option.
- Always try to include at least one bulky item such as cauliflower or cabbage every week to fill up the box - but try not to put the same item in several weeks in a row and try to balance the amount of affordable varieties (such as cabbage, carrots, potatoes) with more expensive items such as runner beans or soft fruits.
- Some items are sold per item or per bunch and some will need to be weighed, so if possible try to offer a majority of items that do not need weighing to save time when packing.
- Some people will not like more unusual items such as chard or celeriac, and may not know what to do with them. It's a good idea to not put them in every week, and when you do, include a recipe or some information about how to cook them.
- All the wholefood wholesalers offer a huge range of products including nuts, pulses, dried fruit, flour, and lots of goods in tins and jars, as well as non-food items.
- They are all supplied in bulk but the pack sizes will vary e.g. you may be able to get rice in 5kg bags or in 10 x 500g bags.
- You will save most money by buying things in large packs, and also usually make bigger savings buying organic products - but you need to be careful not to buy foods that will go off before you've got through them.
- If you are setting up a small buying group it is probably best to start with a few main products lines rather than asking everyone to go through the whole catalogue, which can be a bit overwhelming.
- You could ask members to list the 10 items they eat most often and from that make up a list of 20 items to include on an order form, and people can then also order extra items from the catalogue if they buy a whole pack and want something specific.
- You also need to decide if you are going to split cases e.g. if someone only wants one jar of jam, and they come in packs of 12 what will you do with the other 11. Normally buying clubs arrange this amongst themselves but would need to buy at least half a case.
Support our charity
Your donation will help us support communities to set up and run food coops and buying groups across the UK to improve access to healthy food.