In this blog, we’re deep diving into the intricacies of sourcing seafood from suppliers. Join us as we uncover the standards and accreditations we seek in new suppliers and how we negotiate pricing, as well as several other sourcing factors that drive this dynamic sector and shaping the way we enjoy the treasures of the sea.   

What criteria do you use to evaluate and select new suppliers for the business?  

Alan Robinson 

◇ Their ability to supply. 

◇ Price, but that isn’t as important as other factors. 

◇ Consistency of supply and product. 

◇ Accreditations. 

Michael Hansen 
I’d agree, however, different products carry different levels of risk, which impacts our approach. For instance, consider smoked mackerel—a ready-to-eat product that poses a high risk since consumers can eat it straight from the package without cooking, leaving bacteria intact. Consequently, products like ready-to-eat or sashimi-grade items demand thorough accreditation to mitigate this risk. 

On the other hand, fish not intended for raw consumption reduces risk significantly, allowing for a different level of risk assessment and accreditation process, though still requiring documentation through our supply approval program. 

Fresh caught mackerel

What specific accreditations or certifications do you require from your suppliers, and why are they important?   

Michael Hansen – Basic certifications are non-negotiable, especially for high-risk products. SALSA accreditation serves as a baseline requirement. Anything below these standards is unacceptable. We also look for IFS and BRCGS

Alan Robinson – MSC is another accreditation we highly value. This focuses on the sustainability of the product, so we prioritise wild fish bearing this eco-label.    

How do you ensure that suppliers meet the business quality and safety standards consistently? 

Michael Hansen – They have regular audits as part of their BRCGS accreditation, this would be a yearly inspection. Then the product gets assessed by our intake teams on a daily basis. We hear about it very quickly when there is an issue with a product. 

Alan Robinson – Yes, products are checked at goods in, in every depot. Ensuring suppliers consistently meet our quality and safety standards is crucial. If a concern arises, such as a call I received previously about smoked salmon quality, swift action is always taken. Despite the smoked salmon incident not being a food safety issue, we promptly notified all buyers at the individual depots. Our alert system is robust; if a depot reports an issue, I immediately inform others who received the same batch. This constant vigilance is integral to our role. 

How do you manage relationship with suppliers to ensure a stable and diverse supply chain? 

Alan Robinson – I’d say it relies on open communication and transparency. I regularly engage with suppliers, discussing thoughts, actions, and expectations. Building strong relationships is key; many suppliers I work with have been our partners for years. Understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses is essential. I prioritise making existing relationships work, but, if necessary, I’ll seek new suppliers. 

Michael Hansen – Direct communication, preferably via phone rather than relying solely on emails. Also, building relationships through face-to-face interactions, like trade shows or visiting supplier factories. Over time the trust and reputation strengthens, and you can tell as it impacts factors like payment reliability and ease of collaboration. Finding a balance that works for both parties is key to a long-term successful partnership. 

Alan Robinson – Yes, establishing that rapport with suppliers initially can seem challenging, as they can be quite reserved. However, once you reach that mutual understanding, you get increased cooperation and flexibility, such as longer price holds. Lack of communication can strain relationships, or, as Michael said, only communicating over email. 

What strategies do you use to stay updated on industry trends and innovations in fresh food sourcing? 

Alan Robinson – I’d say trade shows and, of course, social media is a source of so much information. There’s always news coming out on social platforms to help you follow industry trends.  Visiting factories is also important. We both travel around to see what our suppliers are up to and what new products they are developing. It’s always good to see how much they appreciate it when we visit. 

Michael Hansen – Yes, LinkedIn is pretty good. You also have completely different conversations when you’re at the factories. You’ll see stuff out the corner of your eye and can ask questions. Also, the more interest you show in your suppliers, the better that relationship becomes and the more likely they are to give you heads up about things. 

I utilise a few industry websites that I look at daily, in addition to receiving email updates from industry publications. I do rely on speaking to my colleagues because, unfortunately, I’m not a know it all! I must rely on other people too that read articles and information, and pass that on, which they are thankfully very good at. We are lucky to have so many good people in our company with interest in this industry. 

Alan Robinson – Yes, never think that you know it all. That kind of attitude will not stay the course in this industry. You’ve got to keep learning all the time. 

How do you prioritise sustainability and ethical sourcing practices when choosing new suppliers?  

Michael Hansen – When we’re on the hunt for new suppliers, we usually look for certifications like MSC, ASC or Global GAP. If a customer has a specific request, that’s our first point of focus, but when we’re exploring new options or species, it’s all about sustainability.  

Laky who is our Director of Sustainability, is great at finding eco-friendly choices and presenting them to customers. As a buyer, I’m not just solely focused on sustainability based accreditations, as I’ve got a broad range of criteria to fulfil. However, sustainability is always a big deal for us. We love working with suppliers who share our commitment to sustainability. That’s the kind of partnership we’re after. 

In what ways do you collaborate with suppliers to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership?  

Alan Robinson – Support from the early days is important and you make a supplier for life. As an example, last year we backed a potential supplier lacking accreditations, guiding them with feedback and pricing. With our support, they obtained BRC certification and are now earning all our scallop business. It’s essential to nurture capable suppliers, not just established ones, and they’ll often go the extra mile when supported from the start. 

Michael Hansen – With sustainability it’s often a longer journey. You don’t just turn a fishery on and then it’s sustainable. It typically goes into a Fishery Improvement Programme (FIP). We actively support suppliers in FIPs. We recognise their progress and drive, and don’t discount the opportunity to support them. It’s rewarding that we have that ability as an established company. I’ve worked in different companies where that isn’t possible. At Direct Seafoods, we take a holistic approach, valuing long-term sustainability over short-term gains. From that point of view, it’s a fantastic company to be part of because we can do that. We’re not short sighted. 

Alan Robinson – Unfortunately not all suppliers reciprocate. As an example, I’ve been pursuing a company for two weeks because a national account customer needs vacuum packed mussels. They are a big supplier. Despite numerous calls and emails, I still haven’t made progress with securing a contract with them. Some big companies aren’t interested unless you’re ordering huge volumes, which is a poor way to do business. Fortunately, we don’t deal with suppliers like that.  

Fishing boat at sea

What measures do you take to maintain consistency in product quality and freshness across different suppliers? 

Alan Robinson – The depots monitor well. I often get direct feedback from the factory floor myself. Having somebody in production ringing up and telling me exactly what is wrong with the fish, then following up with photographs is ideal communication. It means I know exactly what they’re talking about. 

Michael Hansen  – Monitoring goods in and pulling up any kind of issues. Frozen is slightly different, as sometimes suppliers are further away, I must rely on 3rd party inspections and trust in the suppliers at their end. I get a report with the pictures, so we have evidence that they’ve done due diligence, but really, initially, it involves a lot of trust.  

Last October, I visited one of our suppliers overseas and noticed a specification issue during a factory tour. I made sure they fixed it right away to prevent any future problems or complaints on our end. Going abroad for these checks isn’t easy—it’s costly and time-consuming. I can’t be there every week. So, we have to rely on pre-shipment inspections and that the goods meet the specifications we have detailed.

It comes over into our central cold store before it goes to depot and is checked there. Then it goes out to the customer, and we get very direct, very fast feedback from that point onwards. But that can be several months from production date with frozen fish. 
Alan Robinson – If there’s an issue, it’s usually about meeting a particular specification. Sometimes it’s tricky. For example, if one customer wants their 170-230g  haddock prepared one way, and another wants it different. Talking directly with suppliers helps a lot. They can assign one person specifically to handle that one order, which smooths things out. That’s why fresh and frozen buying can be quite different. I’m dealing with smaller, daily orders while Michael’s handling big frozen batches. 

Can you share any insights on how you negotiate pricing and terms with suppliers to achieve the best possible outcomes for the business? So, I think you touched earlier on having like a good relationship. Sometimes they’ll hold pricing for longer. 

Michael Hansen  – Benchmarking is essential for negotiating pricing and terms with suppliers. Understanding market prices and comparing different options helps ensure that we are getting the best deal. It’s not just about the cheapest price; factors like reliability and past performance also play a crucial role. For instance, opting for a slightly more expensive supplier with lower number of delayed shipments can prevent loss of sales. Establishing proper specifications ensures we’re comparing like-for-like products, further aiding in decision-making. Once these critical steps are in place, exploring multiple supply options allows for better negotiation outcomes. 

I leverage different price points to negotiate better deals with suppliers, especially for large orders like container loads. Consistency in supply is key, but I reassess the suppliers and benchmark pricing and usually narrow down to three options. While one supplier may consistently offer the lowest price, it’s important not to become complacent. 

Alan Robinson  – On the fresh side, pricing is influenced by the short shelf life of fish. Prices can vary significantly within the week as suppliers need to clear stock by the end of the week for incoming shipments. Prices may start off high at the beginning of the week and drop by the end. Our central purchasing system supports national pricing by estimating prices three weeks ahead based on market and historical data. We aim for 75% support centrally but do allow depots to buy from other suppliers to ensure competitive pricing. Despite occasional fluctuations, our proactive pricing approach benefits both depots and customers. This is a different dynamic than that of bulk purchasing because we focus on day-to-day buying rather than long-term stockholding. 
Michael Hansen – The dynamics of negotiating pricing and terms differ significantly between fresh and frozen products. Fresh items involve daily price changes and negotiations, with prices fluctuating based on market conditions and exchange rates. Whereas, frozen products originate as fresh, but are frozen at a certain point, with pricing fluctuating over their shelf life, which can span up to two years. 

Alan Robinson  – Losing money is a different story for fresh versus frozen products. With fresh items, losses can accumulate quickly due to their short shelf life, while with frozen products, mistakes may have longer-lasting consequences. Getting it wrong can be costly, but in the fresh business, losses are felt more immediately. 

Michael Hansen  – Yes, in the fresh world problems must be sorted out by the end of the week, no matter what they are which ensure smooth operations and customer satisfaction. With frozen, when we have a problem, that product can sit for months, or it can be talked about next week or the month after it because there isn’t that urgency. The problem will stay in the product, it’s not going to deteriorate in the space of a week. 

Alan Robinson  – Especially, if I make a mistake when I’m ordering and I order 1000 kilo of something instead of 100. If it’s fresh fish, it’s too late. It’s coming. 

Michael Hansen  – I have several weeks to spot an error like that, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean to say that I do always capture them straight away. I’ve obviously also made a few mistakes in my career. In frozen buying, we may have more time, but that does not mean that we get it right all the time, unfortunately. 

When they go through like when products come in and they go through the quality assurance checks, if somebody does pull up something, what actions do you take on that?  

Alan Robinson  – If there’s a quality issue, especially a health concern like a foul odour, I’d act fast. First, I’d call all relevant departments to stop sales and notify everyone immediately. Emails to key personnel like the Director of Food Safety and Business Unit Directors would follow, ensuring everyone is well informed. Phone calls are crucial for urgent matters—emails can be easily missed. 

Michael Hansen  – When it comes to quality issues with frozen products, my approach differs slightly. Often, complaints revolve around misunderstandings, like incorrect measurements due to the nature of frozen goods. So, I start by validating the complaint—pictures and conversations help clarify things. If it’s genuine, I immediately dive into traceability. Once I’ve gathered the necessary info, I put together a detailed report, complete with visuals, and send it off to the suppliers. I expect a response within 24 hours, tailored to the seriousness of the issue. This could range from a simple acknowledgment to a thorough explanation of corrective measures taken. 

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