For customers at a restaurant, consistency – from the quality of the food to the quality of non-food items – is essential to the dining experience. This has put pressure on foodservice distributors to stock the right items to appeal to each segment of the customer base, whether it is fast casual/QSR, casual dining or premium restaurants.

That’s why category management has become increasingly important in foodservice distribution. According to the Institute of Grocery Distribution, category management is “the strategic management of product groups through trade partnerships which aims to maximize sales and profit by satisfying consumer and shopper needs.”

The customer experience at any restaurant is enhanced through consistency of products, so all items should be on par with the restaurant appearance.

For example: Since fast casual restaurants see a lot of customer traffic, they would need high-capacity dispenser systems to keep the front of the house fully stocked with napkins, while hard-wound roll towels and jumbo bath tissue is needed for the restroom. Likewise, a destination restaurant or country club may focus on having white tablecloths and premium napkins to better suit their customers’ needs.

To achieve proper category management and give the customers the products they expect, businesses can follow these guidelines and establish a consumer-focused strategy.

DEFINE: the category of product and the role it plays within the restaurant.

EVALUATE: the current performance of the category and customer needs.

PLAN: goals and benchmarks for the future of the category.

CREATE: a plan of tactics to track and stock the category.

COLLABORATE & IMPLEMENT: with suppliers and distributors to analyze product movement and find the best and most efficient supply for the demand.

All levels of the supply chain must understand the significant part that good category management plays between the supplier and distributor. Now, stocking decisions will be based on consumer needs, whether it is premium products for the washroom or a high-volume of napkins on the tables. There is a great opportunity to partner with distributors and sales agencies to improve the supply chain.

To learn more about this topic and connect with professionals about the latest practices and certification in CM, check out the Category Management Association.