Choosing a Food Distributor in the UK: 6 Things You NEED To Know

Unlocking food and beverage opportunities in the UK starts with the right food distirbutor. But don't make a partnership without considering these 6 things.

May 17, 2023
May 17, 2023
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4
min read

If you're a food and beverage executive looking to expand your operations to the United Kingdom, one of the critical steps you must take is selecting the right food distributor. The UK, with its diverse culinary scene and high consumer spending power, offers ample opportunities for food businesses from around the globe. But to make the most of these opportunities, it's crucial to understand the dynamics of the UK's food distribution landscape.

Finding the right food distributor in the UK can be the key to unlocking the potential of this lucrative market. To help you navigate this journey, we've condensed everything you need to know about choosing a food distributor in the UK into 6 key points.

1. Understand the UK’s Food Distribution Landscape

Before selecting a food distributor in the UK, it's crucial to gain a deep understanding of the country's food distribution landscape. The UK food retail sector is dominated by several large supermarket chains, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons. These big players account for a substantial percentage of the country's total food sales.

image of tesco a major partner for uk food distributors
TESCO is the UKs largest retailer with over 4500 stores nationwide | Image courtesy of Canva

However, there is also a thriving market of independent grocers, convenience stores, online food retailers, and food service outlets that can offer unique opportunities for your products. When researching potential distributors, ask questions such as:

  • What types of retailers do they work with?
  • Do they cover the entire UK, or do they specialise in specific regions?
  • What is their track record with products similar to yours?

Starting with a regional focus can often be an effective strategy, allowing you to adapt to the market and fine-tune your approach before expanding nationally.

2. Familiarise Yourself with the UK’s Food Distribution Channels

In the UK, the food distribution structure primarily comprises three layers: manufacturers, wholesalers/distributors, and retailers.

Manufacturers produce the goods, wholesalers or distributors buy these goods in large quantities and distribute them to various retail outlets. Retailers then sell these products to the end consumers.

Many food distributors in the UK work closely with both local and international manufacturers to bring a wide range of products to retailers. Some large retail chains also operate their own distribution networks, bypassing third-party distributors for certain products.

3. Identify the Right Type of Food Distributor in the UK

There are various types of food distributors in the UK, and choosing the right one depends on your specific needs and business goals. These include:

  • National Distributors: These are large-scale distributors that have the capacity to service retailers across the entire UK. They typically work with a wide range of products and can provide access to a vast network of retail outlets.
  • Specialist Distributors: These distributors focus on specific types of products, such as organic foods, ethnic foods, or gourmet products. They often have deep industry knowledge and connections within their niche, which can be valuable if your product fits their specialisation.
  • Regional Distributors: These distributors operate within specific regions of the UK, offering a more targeted and localised distribution service. They are often a good choice if you are starting small or if your product appeals more to certain regional tastes or demographics.
  • Online Distributors: With the rise of e-commerce, many distributors now focus on online retail channels. This can be a good option if you want to reach a wide audience without the need for physical retail presence.

Begin by reviewing our list of the top 11 food distributors in the UK to get a feel for potential partners.

4. Understand the Role of Wholesalers in the UK

Wholesalers play a crucial role in the UK's food distribution network. They purchase products in bulk from manufacturers or importers and distribute them to retailers. Some wholesalers specialise in certain product categories or types of retail outlets, such as convenience stores or food service businesses.

Wholesalers can provide a range of services, including logistics, storage, and sales support. They often have established relationships with a wide network of retailers, which can help get your product into stores more quickly and efficiently.

However, it's important to note that some larger retailers in the UK, particularly supermarket chains, often prefer to deal directly with manufacturers or importers, bypassing wholesalers. Understanding the role and relationships of wholesalers within your target retail channels is crucial when choosing a food distributor in the UK.

5. Be Prepared For The Post-Brexit Distribution Landscape in the UK

As an F&B executive looking to enter the UK market, understanding the implications of Brexit on the distribution landscape is crucial. Brexit has brought about significant changes that can impact the way you strategise your entry into this market.

Firstly, new customs procedures and regulatory checks on goods entering the UK from the EU have come into play. This can potentially complicate the import process of your food products into the UK, possibly leading to delays in distribution. When choosing a food distributor in the UK, it's vital to select one well-versed in these new regulations. A distributor who can efficiently navigate the post-Brexit import procedures will help you avoid unnecessary complications.

Secondly, post-Brexit changes have prompted shifts in the UK's food supply chains. Many food businesses have started sourcing more products domestically or from non-EU countries to bypass the new trade barriers with the EU. If your product is from a non-EU country, this could present an excellent opportunity to meet this demand shift.

Lastly, in the face of Brexit uncertainties, many UK food businesses have sought to build more resilient supply chains. This includes diversifying their supplier base, increasing stock levels, and exploring alternative distribution channels. This trend towards resilience could open up opportunities for your product if you can offer innovative and flexible distribution solutions.

6. Leverage GourmetPro’s Local Expertise

The UK food market is diverse and complex, with varying consumer preferences across different regions and retail channels. Navigating this landscape can be challenging, especially if you're new to the market. This is why leveraging local expertise is crucial when choosing a food distributor in the UK.

At GourmetPro we maintain a pre-vetted network of experts with proven track records of supporting companies to achieve success in the UK market. Our experts can provide invaluable insights into the market, help identify the most suitable distribution partners for your product, and assist with negotiating distribution agreements. They can also help you understand and comply with local regulations and standards, which is particularly important in the highly regulated food and beverage industry.

Choosing the right food distributor in the UK requires a deep understanding of the UK's food distribution landscape, a clear strategy aligned with your business goals, and the ability to leverage local expertise. By partnering with GourmetPro, you can take stress off your internal resources while ensuring you have a strong start in the UK market. Contact our team today and let’s brainstorm next steps.

FAQs for Choosing a Food Distributor in the UK

Q.1 - Who is the largest food distributor in the UK?

The largest food distributor in the UK is the Booker Group. As a part of Tesco plc since 2018, Booker provides services to over 503,000 catering businesses, 125,000 retailers, and numerous other businesses across the UK through its cash and carry and delivered wholesale services.

Q.2 - How many food distributors are there in the UK?

There isn't an exact number readily available due to the fluid nature of the market, with businesses frequently entering, exiting, or merging. However, the UK food distribution market is vast and diverse, comprising hundreds of distributors, ranging from large nationwide operations to smaller, niche companies.

Q.3 - What is the largest wholesale market in the UK?

The largest wholesale market in the UK by turnover is the New Spitalfields Market in London. Known primarily for its selection of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, it serves a wide range of customers from small retailers to large foodservice businesses. Its central location in London allows for efficient distribution across the city and beyond.

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