The Complete Guide to Dairy Wholesale & Distribution

August 14, 2023
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Wholesale dairy distribution is a growing industry as suppliers continue to try to meet demand. From buying and selling dairy to understanding the differences between common dairy items, there’s a lot out there that customers are unaware of.

In our previous articles, we’ve discussed the definition of dairy in detail. Now, we’re going to share with you everything that you’ll need to know to make your next business endeavor or shopping experience successful. 

As a dairy business owner, it’s imperative that your storefront has readily available products whenever your customers need them. Choosing to buy wholesale products instead of shopping at a local grocery chain is ideal. Wholesale goods are typically cheaper to buy in bulk quantities and the quality is significantly better. 

Before you get lost in a sea of research about how to become a wholesaler, how to run a wholesale business, and how to run a wholesale distribution business, we recommend you take a step back and learn the basics. This includes knowing what wholesale dairy is, where to find wholesale products, and how to choose the right supplier.

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What Is Wholesale Dairy?

Dairy wholesale refers to dairy products sold to buyers in bulk such as cheese, butter, milk, cream, and yogurt. Mainly because buyers don't produce these goods themselves, and it’s more affordable than buying dairy products at a local market.

Wholesale dairy suppliers connect with companies who have a need for their products. While quality is always a concern for a business, worry is alleviated when buying from quality wholesalers. They monitor everything from animal control to storage temperature regulation, ensuring all products are fresh every time.

How to Choose the Right Wholesale Dairy Supplier

As a restaurant manager, business owner, or entrepreneur, your success depends on the quality of products you provide. Cutting corners might save you money, but it compromises your brand and your customers’ needs.

Any wholesale supplier you consider should place quality at the forefront of their message. Beyond that, there are other qualities to keep an eye out for. These include 3PL companies, pricing, customer service, and order management. The wholesale supplier you choose impacts your own product pricing and what you can sell, depending on what they have available in their merchandise inventory.

Because there are so many options for wholesale suppliers, take some time to consider these factors before making a decision:

  • Product quality
  • Product pricing
  • Customer service and support 
  • The order management process

What You Should Know Before Buying Wholesale Dairy?

Wholesale dairy products are an important part of our health. Many medical experts believe dairy–milk, to be precise–is the most important source of nutrition for young adults. Even so, not all dairy is good for you.

‍When shopping for dairy, be sure to look out for the following: 

  • Dairy products that are free of added chemicals
  • Dairy products from local farms
  • High protein content
  • Low-fat dairy, or healthy fat (omega-3) products (these are normally organic)
  • Dairy products sold within a week of their sell-by date
  • Dairy product packaging that’s free of tears, leaks, or dents (as such, it's preferable to buy milk from a glass container)

Using the above tips when shopping for dairy products will ensure that you leave the store with the highest quality product there is. Understanding how dairy products are made and labeled is key to understanding what products are and are not good for you.

Products Offered by a Dairy Wholesale Supplier

Retailers, grocery stores, caterers, hotels, venues, and other businesses in the restaurant industry buy products from dairy wholesalers. Let’s dive a little deeper into the main goods traded by these suppliers.

  1. Milk. The most popular types include whole milk, skim milk, and low-fat milk. However, most venues and stores also offer a lot of options for their lactose-intolerant customers. That’s why there’s been a steady rise in the consumption of plant-based milks.
  2. Cheese. They are usually sold in blocks or wheels. Some dairy wholesalers offer packaged options as well. Cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, Swiss, and feta are some of the most popular wholesale cheeses.
  3. Butter. As it’s needed for food preparation and cooking, butter is among the most used items in every kitchen and restaurants buy it in bulk. Generally, there are two main types of this ingredient: unsalted and salted butter.
  4. Yogurt and cream. They are used for making various desserts and creamy dishes. The most popular types of yogurt are regular, Greek, and fruit-flavored. Cream can be heavy and light. Half-and-half is also used for desserts and coffee. Sour cream is also an item restaurants buy in bulk from dairy wholesale suppliers.
  5. Cottage and cream cheese. They are used as ingredients for many dishes as well. Dairy wholesalers offer these products in different formats and sizes.
  6. Ice cream. A lot of people don’t think of ice cream as a dairy product, but it’s also made with a lot of milk and cream mixed with other ingredients. That’s why suppliers might also offer different flavors of ice cream as well as toppings.
  7. Dairy ingredients. Powdered milk, whey protein, and other products might be part of the processes for many businesses. That’s why some dairy wholesalers offer bulk quantities of these products as well.

What You Should Know Before Selling Wholesale Dairy

Before starting to sell dairy online, the first step to complete is to develop an eCommerce business plan and a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) grid. Both documents allow you to analyze your current resources and are vital to the success of your business.

‍Consider the following when developing your wholesale marketing business plan:

  • What kind of dairy will you sell (milk, cheese, yogurt, or all dairy)?
  • Where will you market your dairy?
  • How will you market your dairy?
  • Will you need extra employees, or are you able to run the business on your own?
  • How much money do you need to start?

Your business plan needs to be comprehensive and answer all the above questions and more. More than this, your business plan should include a cash flow plan and a break even analysis.

This helps you set reasonable expectations for expenses and production costs. It's good to remember that the most expensive part of a business is starting it.

What Is the Difference Between Organic and Conventional Dairy? 

Organic dairy refers to dairy products that come from livestock that are raised according to organic farming methods regulated by the USDA. While the USDA regulates all dairy products, they regulate organic products to much higher standards. The USDA works with dairy farmers and any produce wholesaler to ensure that their organic products meet the following criteria:

  • All cows on the farm eat feed without fertilizer or pesticides
  • All cows have access to free-range pastures
  • No cows receive any form of supplemental hormones 
  • No cows are given restricted medications for illnesses 

These regulations might seem extreme, but it is for good reason. Any product with an organic label must meet the definition of organic. This is especially true when it comes to organic milk.

On the other hand, conventional dairy (inorganic dairy) products usually come from cows raised on large farms with hundreds of other cows. When you think of a dairy farm, conventional dairy farms are usually what come to mind.

This is mainly because there are more conventional dairy farms than organic farms, but also because most people are unaware of what an organic farm is. As opposed to organic farms, conventional farms contain the following: 

  • USDA regulations
  • Use of synthetic growth hormones
  • Use of GMOs
  • Use of antibiotics
  • Cows with shorter life spans
  • Exposure to pesticides and other chemicals 

The above applies to conventional dairy farms, but not all. However, different brands have different practices in place at their farms. As such, it's best to conduct thorough research before drawing any conclusions. 

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Are Eggs Considered Dairy Products?

Before you can answer whether eggs are a dairy product, you must first understand the definition of dairy. Dairy includes any food product made from milk.

This includes cheese, cream, butter, and yogurt. In addition, dairy products mainly come from livestock animals such as cows, goats, and even sheep. 

Any byproducts of those goods are also considered a dairy product. Therefore, because eggs do not come from milk, they are not dairy products. Instead, eggs come from birds like hens or ducks–who do not produce milk. 

Since many customers still question whether or not eggs are considered dairy, if you're looking to sell online, or become a produce wholesaler, it’s good practice to ensure your customers understand the difference. This is especially true if you're catering to specific demographics like vegetarians, vegans, or those with dairy allergies. These groups will look for labels that say “dairy-free,” or “vegan” when shopping.

As such, it’s important that your products advertise this. Not only for their sake but because it can become a legal issue if someone with a dairy allergy consumes a product without a dairy label on it. 

What is Dairy Farming?

Dairy farming is the process of raising mother animals like cows, goats, donkeys, and other livestock to use their milk for humans. The most common dairy wholesale products include milk, cheese, butter, and creams.

Dairy farming also produces many common non-edible byproducts. Paint and colored paper are two examples of dairy farming byproducts. 

Today, the majority of dairy farms are family-owned. To be more precise, about 94% of dairy farms are family-owned (American Dairy Association). This is a significant change from when things began.

Family-owned dairy farms tend to be more ethical as opposed to corporate dairy farms. So, if you're looking for a quality dairy product that is ethically produced, a local family farm is your best option.

When it comes to the specifics of dairy farming there are many techniques farmers use. The most common include milking pipelines, milking parlors, and automatic milkers. We’ll describe these three methods in more detail below.

Milking Pipelines

A milking pipeline uses vacuum pumps, attached to a cow's udders, to move milk from the cow to a milk storage tank. Milking pipelines are the most common milking method. They also include the farmer in the process as dairy farmers have to manually attach a milking device to the cows' udders.

The milking device uses a combination of suction and gravity to pull the milk from the cows. Each pipe connects to a different port usually stored on the ceilings of the farm. The ports are then emptied and the pasteurization process begins.

Milking Parlors

With a milking parlor, farmers bring their cows to a waiting area where they'll await entry to the parlor to get milked. Only a few cows are allowed to be in a milking parlor at once. The farmer then brings an individual cow into the parlor and removes bedding and debris from their udders. From there each individual udder gets disinfected with an iodine solution. 

Next, the farmer pulls on each udder to stimulate the milking process in the cow. The pulling motion mimics a baby cow suckling, so mom releases milk. All of this takes place before attaching the milking device. 

Finally, once all the cows finish milking, the farmer starts the cleaning process. By standard practice, milking parlors get cleaned twice a day, or after each milking session. They'll disinfect the floors and equipment, then thoroughly wash the floors too. 

Automatic Milkers

Automatic milkers are milking mechanisms made to stimulate the natural feeling of a baby cow suckling its mom. Farmers put the milking mechanism on all the cows' udders.

From there, the milkers, lined with rubber, squeeze mom's udders. Vacuum pumps begin operating in a rhythm on each udder.  The milk will flow through a sensor that is able to tell when no more milk is coming through. At this point, the milkers will fall off of the cow. 

Who are the Best Dairy Wholesale Distributors?

Dairy products play an integral part in our society. They're used in commonplace foods like pasta, bread, pizza, and other consumer products like milk or yogurt. As such, the market is competitive. Consumers rely on dairy distributors to provide them with quality dairy products without barriers.

So, how do you know what companies are trustworthy and provide the best products? There are numerous ways to figure that out, including using a wholesale directory. Not all B2B wholesale is equal, so it's important you understand what to look for when making your decision. 

If you’re looking to add some dairy products into your diet, here are some of our recommendations for the best dairy product suppliers:

Who are the Best Wholesale Cheese Suppliers Near Me?

Cream & the Crop Cheese

CATC is a small family business, owned by Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford. In fact, they've produced their cheese products on their family farm, Brichford Farm, since 1981.

The focal point of their business is that they create their cheese with grass-fed cows, all-natural approaches, and sustainable methods. Because of this, they produce their cheese in small batches. This way, it's easier to monitor all products for quality.

World's Best Cheese

World's Best Cheese creates some of the best quality cheese there is. They got their start over 45 years ago. A large percentage of their cheese selection is from producers all over the world. 

Whether you want cheese from France or butter from Switzerland, they've got you covered with the best. On their website, you'll find various guides listing an inventory of cheese and deli products available for purchase and their wholesale price.

Who Are the Best Milk Wholesale Suppliers Near Me?

DF Ingredients

DF Ingredients is the best place to shop if you want unique blends you can't find anywhere else. From milk and whey protein to butter and lactate, there's nothing they don't provide.

At DF, they work with customers daily to design blends specific to their company. As a result, many people they work with see reduced costs and happier customers. 

Agri-Dairy Products

Agri-Dairy, located in New York, distributes various kinds of dairy products to places all over the world. However, their niche is milk and butter. Other milk products they sell include non-fat milk, evaporated milk, cream, lactose, and much more.

Agri-Dairy has taken to developing and selling their products on an international scale. Their focus is to bring sustainable and eco-friendly practices beyond the United States.

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Overall, there’s a lot that goes into becoming a dairy wholesaler or simply just buying dairy products from the store as a shopper. Regardless of what role you play, it’s important to research your products and suppliers before making a purchase. 

The right dairy wholesale supplier makes all the difference in the product you offer your customers. Be on the lookout for the tips we’ve mentioned above next time you’re looking to make a dairy purchase.

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