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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