Whether someone is an animal producer, regardless of size, or a compound feed mill (again, size does not matter), there is a need at some point to associate with a nutrition supplier. This nutrition supplier can be a single person, a simple entity like a premix/concentrate manufacturer, a local representative of a large international firm or the very same large international company itself through its local branch or even its international headquarters. It all depends how large a client is or can be with the help of a nutritional supplier.
It does not matter whether you need a vitamin premix, one or more additives, a concentrate or basemix, or even just advice how to formulate complete feeds or which products to buy — a nutrition supplier is a must, and most animal producers and compound feed mills usually have more than one. This raises a good question: How many are enough? Should one buy advice and/or products from a single source (just like a supermarket) or buy each ingredient/advice piecemeal from their source? Volume, deals, logistics, distance, habits and many more will determine the final decision, but in my opinion, these supermarket-type nutrition suppliers become (or want to become) increasingly mainstream. Their dream is to be the only source of ingredients and advice (often a dangerous proposition), clearly to exclude competition but also because the client base (those producers and the local feed mills that often service them) became fewer with each year. And, whether a producer is small or large, it does not matter — they all have the same decisions to make.
So, when it is time to select a new nutrition supplier, I have prepared a checklist to make sure the obvious pitfalls will be avoided. Some nutrition suppliers will not agree with my list, believing, and rightly so, that it is too demanding, too rigid and even too expensive to implement. But, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it is better to shoot for the stars than stay in the gutter. So, even if a good-willed nutrition supplier does not meet all of these strict requirements, it is better to have them in mind for future reference.
- Who is the nutritionist working for you?
Here I must be very strict, because a good nutritionist requires a long education process and considerable commercial experience. Sometimes, whether the nutritionist studied in a university where courses were required or not can make a big difference. A master’s degree is a good start, but a Ph.D. is a better one. And, of course, not all professors are equally effective mentors. So, ask around, and get yourself acquainted with the nutritionists who decide on the 60 percent of your farm’s cost. Some clients prefer to work with many nutrition suppliers to get the benefit of many nutritionists. It is like going to many doctors to get an opinion for a surgery — a very commendable practice, but you would not want all of them to operate on you at the same time, right? So, pick the best, give them all the information they need, and let them do the job they do, the best they can. If a nutrition supplier does not employ any nutritionists with a degree, run away!
- What are the institutions you work with?
Knowledge cannot come in isolation, and this means a nutrition supplier cannot be an expert in everything, especially if they try to sell everything. So, getting associated with institutions (only the best, and not all universities are the best) that produce actual knowledge is a must. Companies that fund universities only to test their own products is like going to a church (of any dogma) where the priest pays the congregation to believe. Part of this problem is that universities and other research institutions have been reduced to begging commercial companies for funding their research programs, and indirectly their careers, but this is a problem for politicians — who prefer to spend their time on other more “sexy” issues.
- Do you have your own research facilities?
A good nutritionist, working in association with a few reputable research institutions, should be full of ideas, especially after attending a conference or other such scientific meeting. It is natural for the nutritionist to want to test these new ideas, but research institutions are not ideal places for commercial research (for a number of reasons). So, a nutrition supplier should have their own commercial research facilities, preferably owned, and a dedicated research team — not everything on the poor nutritionist! Then, those successful new or improved products should be tested on a number of trusted customers. Only then can commercial success be guaranteed.
- Let’s visit your facilities
A long tour at the facilities of any supplier will tell you many things. You do not need to be an expert to investigate the ISOs, GMPs and FS, etc. — all very important-sounding certificates that say this player knows the basics. But, do they apply them? Have a look around, observe the processes, the neatness, the level of hygiene and, in general, consider whether you would like to eat your lunch there (but please don’t!). Old, worn-out facilities with overworked employees are not going to give you the best quality products, even if the ingredients are first class. On the other hand, if you are looking for a bargain …
- Who is the boss?
If the CEO, or however they call the person who signs the checks, is not available for a short visit, then go fishing in another pond. A very short visit with the CEO, assuming the client is a serious one, will help establish a personal relationship with the company. It will also help explain to the customer or potential client the philosophy of the company, where it sees its future in five and 10 years and whether they believe the client’s business has a viable future — things that CEOs like to or should talk about — and I mean the CEOs of both the client and supplier.
- Buy some product for a test
A free sample is a nice gesture, but I would rather buy from a dealer or distributor without the manufacturer knowing I am going to give them a test. Perhaps I am over-suspicious (yes), perhaps I have been doing this too long (yes, again) or perhaps being conservative once in a while is not a bad thing (no comment here). So give the test material the run of your own facilities and see how animals perform. Does it work? If yes, does it make or save you money? If not, then go back to the fishing step. Most likely there is nothing wrong with the nutrition supplier (see, I am not over-suspicious after all), but as it happens, not all products (especially additives) work in all situations/farms. Just try a different source or product.
The most important piece of advice I could part with is never to stop looking for a better deal, even from your long-term partner/supplier. And a better deal does not always mean a better price — which can become a worse product — but can be a better service or a better product, or even a piece of advice to save or make money for you. There is pride in seeing animals grow and produce, but someone needs to pay the bills: the CEO.