The Cafe Owner’s Guide to Wholesale Supplies and Suppliers

(Or Everything You Need to Know About Buying Wholesale for Your Cafe)

Navigating the sourcing process for your cafe’s wholesale supplies and equipment is headache-inducing.

It’s a fact. Whether you’re a first-time cafe owner or a long-time entrepreneur.

Where do you start? What do you get? Who do you talk to? What will the logistics look like?

This guide outlines everything you need to know. From checklists of what you need to buy to how to choose your supplier.

Why wholesale?

Before we get to the good stuff, let’s answer the top question that’s probably on your mind. Why buy through a wholesale account?

Whether you’re starting a new cafe or have an existing one, you want to attract a lot of customers.

Statistics show that Gloria Jean’s sold an average of 58.7 million hot drinks across Australia in 2020. This is a popular franchise. But even if you target even just 1% of that statistics, you still run to about 500,000 drinks per year.

A happy problem. But one that entails a lot of supplies.

So, it makes sense to buy supplies in bulk. You won’t have to worry about constant delivery or inventory runs. And because you buy a lot at one time, you pay a discounted price for all of your purchases. You can then sell the items, or the mixed products, at a more profitable price.

Because your customers pay for the final price, remember these three tips:

  • Pick a supplier whose prices aren’t very high so that they won’t affect your cafe’s revenue and profitability.
  • Make sure that your prices are consistent with the F&B industry. It shouldn’t be too high or customers will go to other cafes. Or too low, which will hurt your income.
  • As stated, you’ll be ordering a lot and often so you don’t run out of ingredients for your menu. So, it’s better to take advantage of promos or premium wholesale accounts that your supplier offers. Think of it like the loyalty program that many cafes offer. You get more perks if you have a loyalty card or account with a specific store.

What you want to offer: the basics

Now that we’ve established the foundation for buying, let’s look at the supplies and equipment you’ll need.

We start with the basics: coffee and tea.

But you can’t serve just any kind of coffee or tea. Let’s begin with the coffee. Over 70 countries produce unique coffee beans. Hundreds of companies create coffee blends. There are thousands of specialty coffees that you can offer to your customers.

This is also true for tea. Black. Green. Blends. Tisanes. Chai. Tea options are as varied as coffee options.

You’ll also want to think about supplements like sugars and syrups. To amp up the taste and satisfy different palates.

One tip to narrow down this seemingly endless list of options is to consider your customers’ preferences and your budget. For now, let’s focus on your customers.

  • Which drinks are popular among customers in your area? If you’re already running your cafe, at the end of the day, which drink did your customers buy the most?
  • What is on trend or in season in the industry?
  • Do you have a drink that’s unique to your cafe?
  • Which drinks do you want to highlight?

If you don’t have data, take some time to talk to your customers or friends. Ask them what they like. What they don’t like. This tactic also doubles as a great way to build deeper relationships with potential or current customers.

What you want to offer: the next level

Strictly speaking, the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop is the food.

A coffee shop focuses on offering drinks with choice desserts or pastries on the side.

A cafe offers a variety of food items besides desserts and pastries that complement the drinks. For example, sandwiches, soups and salads.

You could change your menu depending on the time of day, the season or the ingredients you have on hand.

But what you will always need are baking ingredients.

And some ready-to-sell baked goods for instant takeaways. Although these are more perishable, you can still buy them wholesale and coordinate the best delivery schedule with your supplier.

What you need

Besides the decor and the food in a display case, one of the first things that grab the attention of cafe customers is the array of shiny machines behind the counter.

 There is a lot of specialised coffee and tea making equipment. But the most basic are:

  • Automatic Drip Coffee Maker - coffee enthusiasts will go to great lengths for a cup of perfectly made single origin coffee or coffee blend. All of which you can satisfy with this handy machine. 

    Ideally, you want to get a drip coffee maker that brews a large batch of coffee quickly. If you offer different types of coffees, buy a coffee maker that’s dedicated to one type only. You can keep the taste pure this way
  • Cooking equipment - serving some food hot is a must. You don’t have to have an open flame in your kitchen area. A toaster or microwave oven might be enough for some cafes.
  • Commercial blenders - offering cold drinks is another must for a cafe. You will want to invest in several quality blenders so you can meet the influx of orders, especially during hot seasons.
  • Commercial espresso machine - go for a semi-automatic or fully automatic machine for your cafe because they’re more economical. Try to avoid manual machines because these might create inconsistent shots of espresso.
  • Display case - for your food items. Not only does it entice customers, but it also keeps the food from spoiling.
  • Industrial grinder - a great cup of coffee relies on how freshly ground the beans are. How the beans are ground will also affect the quality of the final product. Many cafes prefer to use burr grinders with conical burrs instead of blade grinders. Because the burrs deliver a finer, more even grind than blades.

    You will also want to buy several grinders if you offer several types of coffee. Although you can clean them, traces of coffee will inevitably be left in the machine. So, using one grinder for several coffees might affect the taste of the final product.
  • Packaging - refers not just to coffee cups and lids, consider food trays for takeaways, napkins and cutlery. The trend these days is to use sustainable packaging so your business doesn’t have a big impact on the environment.
  • Refrigeration system - you want to keep food items and supplies like milk cold to keep them from spoiling. So, you want to have refrigeration for your display case, frozen food items and other perishable items.
  • Storage - include pumps for liquid ingredients like syrups and crates for solids like coffee beans. You want to have a storage system for your supplies that make it easy for your employees to do their job. Everything has to be accessible and functional. You don’t want your baristas knocking things over or spilling ingredients.

What you need to know before connecting with wholesale suppliers

Remember the tip above about considering your customers’ tastes and your budget?

Let’s now look closer at the latter. 

For this, let’s go back to your business plan and the primary goal for your business.

It may be tempting to offer ten different coffee blends and about the same number of single origin coffees.

But is that what you want your cafe to be known for? Do you have the budget for that? Will your customers even consume all twenty products?

Asking these questions will help you narrow down the supplies you will want to talk about with your supplier.

Then, think about logistics. For small or independent cafes, it’s always better to talk to just one wholesale supplier. It simplifies the whole process. Unless you have one employee who will focus only on managing inventory and coordinating the supply chain. 

Connecting with wholesale suppliers

Of course, the best scenario is to talk to a supplier that will take care not only of your orders but of logistics and even other aspects of running your business.

 Partnering with just one supplier for your essentials will allow you to keep the sourcing process simple and give you fewer headaches, at least for this part of the business.

Before you decide on who to partner with, follow these steps:

  • Get quotes from several reputable suppliers.

    One rule in business is never to sign a contract with the first company that gives you a quote. You want to have an idea of the fair price in the industry.

    But don’t get quotes from hundreds of companies either. Try to limit this to five companies so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Compare prices and check the additional offers and deals of each.

    If you can, try to sample what they offer. Do a cupping test for the coffee type you are eyeing. Remember that you want your customers to have the best coffee or tea experience. What better way to ensure that than to go through the same experience beforehand?

    Based on your comparison and quality check, narrow down your choices to three.
  • Negotiate with the suppliers.

    They know you have a budget. Leverage other aspects of their wholesale account to your advantage.

    Don’t be afraid to share the ballpark figures you’ve been given. Your supplier may have the capacity to match these prices.
  • Sign a contract. Start a profitable relationship.

Ideally, the whole process should happen within a month. You have other aspects of your business to think about. So, you don’t want this part to drag operations.

As a final tip: nurture your relationship with your supplier.

If you are assigned an Account Manager, get to know that person well. Befriend them. Because they can be your coach, mentor and logistics point of contact.

They want you to succeed. And when they see how passionate you are about your cafe, they will be more willing to divulge more knowledge and, more importantly, discounts, offers and promos. And they can connect you with other suppliers for your expanding lineup of offerings.

You’re ready to make your wholesale purchase

You now know the ins and out of buying wholesale for your cafe. You know the reason why it’s a better option for your business. What to look out for when buying ingredients, supplies and equipment. Which suppliers to approach and how to negotiate with them.

Contact TCS Sales Manager Daniel Lim at 02 9472 8555 to start your Wholesale Account with us.