Creating a Commodity List

As a ships cook or campboss you will have to order, receive, store and manage provisions, so it is important to take a logical approach to managing these individual tasks so that all your work dovetails together, so lets look at starting from scratch.

Imagine you are joining a ship for the first time, and there are no provisions on-board and its your job to make an order, where do you start?

Your going to need to make a list of items that you require, we call this list a commodity list, it is important to recognize the value of a well laid out commodity list and the benefits of using it as the foundation for not only your Provisions Orders but also for your R.O.B. (Remaining On Board, Stock Take) each month.

We are going to look at the most basic and possibly most widely used form of a commodity list using an Excel spreadsheet. Excel offers unparalleled freedom and flexibility to tailor your spreadsheets and documents to suit your specific needs.

So a Commodity List is quite simply a list of the items which you carry on-board, but before we look at a practical and useable commodity list spreadsheet, let’s take a look at what a commodity list may look like in its simplest form, that of a basic table.(below) in this format it can be useful as a reminder of all the products listed in a single one page view, handy to keep on your desk or a notice board for quick reference.

We can see that our commodity list consists of all the commodities and ingredients we wish to carry, all listed in groups, fomated in this way it’s easy to see which items you carry on-board, and you can easy tailor the table to suit your vessels requirements.

The side above is a little hard to see, so lets look an enlarged section of the table in more detail.

We can see from this section above that this commodity table in this form does not contain any detail about the products it is merely a list.

In order to make this list more useful we need to present it in a vertical linear fashion and add some detail about the products listed. Let’s look at how we can do this.

Lets take a look at what an example of what a basic Excel Spreadsheet Commodity List might look like on your computer screen.

We can now see on our computer screen that our commodity list is now a vertical list and we have added 4 more columns

  •  The Unit/Size
  • The Quantity
  • The Unit Price
  •  The Total Value

Food comes under 3 basic categories: -

Fresh Produce
Frozen Produce
Dried Goods

Under these 3 basic heading come further sub-categories, below is an example of these sub-categories, these categories could be listed in any way you like, giving your commodity list sub-categories means you will have a logical list of items, in this way individual items can be located with ease when on a printed copy of the spreadsheet: –

Fresh Produce

o Fresh Fruit
o Fresh Vegetables

Frozen Produce

o Frozen Meat
o Frozen Fish
o Frozen Vegetables
o Frozen Fruit

Dried Goods

o Bakery Products
o Sugars and Sweeteners
o Beverages
o Fruits juices
o Canned Fruit
o Canned Vegetables
o Pasta and Noodles
o Oils/Bouillons/Salt
o Sauces and Dressings
o Pickles and Chutneys
o Biscuits Cookies and Crackers
o Dried Herbs/Spices/Pastes
o Jams and Preserves
o Breakfast Cereals

So lets look at what an example of these sub-categories might look like on an actual spreadsheet you may discover  these sub-categories will change from vessel to vessel and there are no hard rules as to how you structure and list your commodities

There is another column you could add;- Product Codes, Product Codes will ensure you are ordering the exact product you want, but if you use different suppliers in different ports, product codes become meaningless as different suppliers won’t use the same product codes.

You will notice the use of colour highlighting in some rows at the head of each category this aids finding each category and then finding any item within the category, the visual effect is easier on the eye than black text and black lines alone on a white page or screen.

Lets examine the extra information we have for each item on our commodity list in the 4 columns on the right.

The Unit, this can be any of the following ;-

  • Weight
  • Volume
  • Number
  • Case or Box

The Quantity can any one of the following

  •  The opening stock
  • The quantity to be ordered
  •  The quantity you have received
  •  The total quantity you have in stock
  • The quantity consumed

The Price, will always be the unit price.

The Value is the unit price multiplied by the quantity.

A commodity list can be a constantly changing and evolving, it is not a static document, and this is particularly true when working on a ship, Ships do not always use the same supplier and apart from moving from port to port, you will find yourself taking on supplies in different countries, where some products are totally different. Changes such as Brand Names, Unit Sizes and price etc, and even the currency you purchase in, the variables for a ships cook when purchasing provisions are many.

In a shore-based catering operation a commodity list may change very little from one month to the next and even from one year to the next, because the chances are you will have regular suppliers and for the most part the foods and supplies you require will change very little.
Ships carry a much greater quantity and range of products than most shore side catering operations, a ships catering officer, or cook must ensure he has everything he or she needs to complete the voyage before leaving Port, this alone is good reason to have a commodity list, a commodity list can help prompt you to ensure you don’t forget anything. Once a ship has sailed you can’t pick up the phone and ask a supplier to deliver something you forgot to order.

You must update your commodity lists as often as necessary to add new products you wish to carry on-board and remove any items you no longer feel you need. You also will need to be able to change product descriptions, brands, unit sizes and of course the quantities you require.


We have now identified the what a Commodity List is, how to create  and format one, how it is structured and the various components we can add to it, so we begin to see the potential this spreadsheet has to help us manage, understand and quantify the movement and consumption of provisions  on-board and all the associated values.


A commodity list can be embedded in a database which can have some advantages, a database can hold huge amounts of product information and can be an asset on some larger vessels and especially passenger ships and cruise ships, but equally a database can have disadvantages when applied to some ships catering operations, as data bases are program or company specific we will not explore data bases further here.