Supplier Approval Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes

Supplier approval for blue chip companies can be daunting for any food and drink business. Here are some tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes. These are taken from a presentation that I gave at The Food Exchange by Enterprise Nation.
  • Don’t click “agree” without reading the document

Don’t click “agree” without reading the document and understanding what you are agreeing to. Just like in the online shopping world, this may be legally binding. There may also be charges set out in the documentation that you are agreeing, too.

Know your customer.

Often this means visiting their sites and speaking to staff. It could be that they are looking for deliveries every day or using a wholesaler that can deliver single packs. Understand their pain points, so that you can solve them.

Specifications are important.

They set out the quality that you are supplying and can be in various formats. Some retailers and wholesalers insist upon set formats and programmes, others will accept yours. If you are given a specification that you are to match, ask for more information, if you need it. One aspect that is often missed is the information that the logistics team needs. This can include pack sizes and carton weights. Know your supply chain. Make sure that audits and visits to suppliers are documented and that you have risk assessed your supply chain from a food safety perspective. Monitor your supplier performance, including complaints. Have a secondary supply source, wherever possible, which is approved, and keep your list of approved suppliers up to date and available to those key team members that need it, such as the buyers and “goods in”. Get Technical. Read the Code of Practice or Technical Standard for your product group published by the organization that you want to supply. Understand the requirements for supplier approval. Do a self audit for your weak areas. Check any product group specific requirements, e.g. microbiological testing frequency. Does your target business have a “banned or restricted foods” list? Get a copy, if they do.  


Number of people that click to agree without reading the document. Source Guardian 3/3/2017

Number of SME food and drink businesses in the UK (2016) (Source DEFRA 2018)

Value (£billions) of the UK Food and Drink market (Source DEFRA 2016 Pocket Book )(2018)


Find out what your target customer needs in terms of accreditation, and the costs that you will incur if you do not already have it. They may not require accreditation by a third party, such as SALSA or BRC. By checking, you are not drawing out the approval process by not having it. Even as a business that subcontracts manufacturing, you may still be audited, as the contract is with you and not your sub contractor.

Review your HACCP 

You must have a HACCP Plan (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) as it is a legal requirement in the UK. Review your risks and control all parts of your food production. If you are increasing your volumes, or changing premises or the flow, these are all triggers for you to review and document the review for your HACCP plan. The supplier approval process may include an in depth analysis of your HACCP plan. Read more here.

Microbiology and Chemistry testing

You will be asked to demonstrate the safety of your product, as part of the supplier approval process. This will include microbiology, and possibly chemistry results. Use an accredited laboratory for the tests that you are paying for. Investigate any anomalies and document your investigations. Control your production environment and maintain regular documented evaluations or audit. You may choose to use alternative rapid methods to check the hygiene of your production area. There is more about this here. 

 Route to Market

How does your target customer intend the product to travel from your premises to their sites? What logistics do they use, or expect you to use. What are the associated costs for you? Do they use a fully integrated logistics model or are you expected to deliver? Asking this question early in the process will help you with pricing and your customer with confidence that you can deliver to their requirements.


Are you confident that you can deliver the increased volumes that your new customer will want? Have you trialled the increased volumes? Can your supply chain cope? My recommendation is that you trial, trial and trial again. It is a good opportunity to invite the buyer or their team to see your production in full flow, but not if there are going to be teething problems. You may be able to distribute the product to local charities or other places which will aid your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the community.
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