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Retail Reality: Initiating First Contact (Part 1 of 3)

June 27, 2018

By Charmian Christie, The Messy Baker

There’s no one route to success, but there are some universal truths. To give you an idea of what’s needed to break into the retail sector, we asked three Food Starter clients to share the stories. This three-part series will cover how they initiated contact, how they handled the red tape, and conclude with details on how they maintain the relationship.

For this series, we spoke with the following Food Starter clients:

Richa Gupta (RG) of GOOD FOOD FOR GOOD: Her products, including cooking sauces, ketchup, and turmeric teas, are available across Canada, including Sobey’s, Longo’s, and Fiesta Farm.

Dan Sennet (DS) of Bald Baker: The most notable of his ever-growing clientele includes McEwan and Marché. He is also currently doing a 10-store test with Metro thanks to an introduction facilitated by Food Starter.

Kam Karamchi (KK) of Broya: Their organic bone broth can be found in more than 150 retail stores, including Farm Boy, Sobeys, Whole Foods, and Healthy Planet.

We asked each food entrepreneur the same questions. Here are their diverse answers.

When reaching out to a retailer, who do you contact and how do you find the right person?

RG: LinkedIn is a great resource. In general, it’s about asking questions. You need to be resourceful. Nothing is handed to you, so use you networking. It’s about people who know people who know people.

DS: I went to as many food festivals as possible, met as many people as possible. I went to markets and gave out business cards. At one event, a person doing prebiotic soda facilitated an introduction with the McEwan General Manager at their north location. [This contact] lead to two contacts – the lead buyer in the baker and the Grocery Manager. The Grocery Manager said he’d take the product. The lead buyer in the bakery will be my primary contact. Depending on store size, you might have one or two contacts.

KK: That depends. With an independent retailer, speak to the grocery manager, but if it’s a big chain like Whole Foods there’s usually a buyer for all the stores, and you need to connect with them.

What form of communication did you use to contact the retailer?

RG: I use different methods with different buyers — email, phone calls, trade shows. The key is you need to be out there so they (the retailer) can reach you and you can reach them.

DS: Email is a good place to start. It makes for a good introduction since you can provide lots of information. You can also track if it’s opened and know if you reached someone. But if you want to sell, you have to walk in and do it in person. Email is the first point of contact, the second is in-person.

KK: I would recommend starting with email and scheduling a meeting. Phone is hit or miss since the buyer could be caught at a bad time. Make a soft start through email.

How did you make yourself stand out?

RG: Just being there and being authentic. It all begins with the right product, the right target market, and if the buyers sees it as an opportunity with you. The retailer might launch a product based on their own needs, not on the consumer’s needs. You have to sell them on consumer demand, not your mother’s recipe or the taste.

DS: There are two things I pride myself on to differentiate our brand. First, the packaging of our product conveys our message and story. What we convey is that you can have a delicious cookie without the side effects of sugar. The way you say that, the tone of packaging — it’s premium / gourmet — justifies the price. It says “Hey, I’m fun. I’m delicious. And by the way, I have only 2 grams of sugar.” We put the taste and experience first, health second. Other healthy baking is free-from first.

Second thing is there are 3 grams or less of sugar in everything we do. The competition isn’t doing this. They all have 25 gram of sugar or more. They are going the “free-from” route. They are packaging the thing you can’t have. We are focusing on the things you can.

KK: Understand what the retailer is looking for. Know their [existing] products. What makes you unique? Our bone broth has a 1-year shelf life. That’s not a big deal for the consumer, but it’s very big for the retailer. Cut to the chase and focus on the unique aspects of your food product.

Did face-to-face meetings play a role in getting your product on the shelves? If so, how?

RG: Face-to-face is a follow-up. It’s hard to get without an initial contact. The first step is you call, email, or meet at a show. Then you have follow-up, and the third step is face-to-face where you can showcase your product. Face-to-face is essential, but it’s certainly not the first thing.

DS: Face-to-face is essential. But you must be prepared. You have to have your product demo ready to rock and roll. Must be financially prepared to give away cookies. It’s not a loss; it’s an investment. You must speak confidently but succinctly. They have only 3 minutes. You have 15 seconds to convince them they should spend the next 2 minutes and 45 seconds with you. All they want to know is, “Is this a good product and will it make me money?” Prove this in 15 seconds and you can then land a test or a consignment situation with the buyers.

KK: We initially met Farm Boy at a CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association) tradeshow. They had heard about us a couple of times before we met face-to-face at CHFA. They already had an understanding of our brand. We piqued their interest at the tradeshow and this lead to further discussion via email.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to get their product distributed?

RG: Do your research. Find out who buys and what motivates them… What is their priority? If the spice buyer is looking for organic and you aren’t, then you can meet as often as you want but it won’t make a difference. Also, ask questions. Don’t just sell your product. Know your retailer’s need. What are they looking for? So often you’re so driven by what you’ve made you forget to ask what they are looking for.

DS: Small and incremental. Start really small and build up inch by inch. Go to a place you can sell directly to and give them a box. Then go to the next store, and then go to store 3 and 4… building your ability to supply as you go. This is the point it can all blow up. Each time you do it, you will fail. You may as well fail on a small, cheap test.

KK: Try to understand what the retailers want from a company. We hammered home the long shelf life. Try to understand what makes your product different – price or other things. At trade shows we hear the same questions from the retailers and it’s different from what the consumer wants. If you can’t get into the retailer there is no consumer. Put yourself in the retailer’s position. What are they looking for? It’s not always about taste and ingredients.

These interviews have been edited for the purpose of clarity and brevity.

*Click here to read next posts: Conquering the Red Tape (Part 2 of 3) and Maintaining the Love – Now You’re There, How Do You Stay (Part 3 of 3)

 

 

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