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Retail Reality: Maintaining the Love – Now You’re There, How Do You Stay?

July 26, 2018


By Charmian Christie, The Messy Baker

This is the final installment of Retail Reality, a three-part series examining what’s needed to break into the retail sector and stay there. Because each company’s experience is as unique as their product, we asked three Food Starter clients to share the stories.

Part 1 looks at Initiating Contact. Part 2 explores Conquering the Red Tape. We conclude the series with details on how to maintain the relationship. 

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

Richa Gupta (RG) of GOOD FOOD FOR GOODHer 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.

How do you keep your product from being replaced by a competitor? Demos? Use social media campaigns? Other methods?

RG: Demos sound nice and accessible, but they are very expensive and time consuming. It’s really just about product awareness. What’s most effective is hard to measure. You have to have a lot of different touch points. There’s no way to check if social media results in sales, but when you do a flyer you can track the results. However, you don’t know the sales impact until two months later. 

DS:  It’s on you to do a lot of marketing outside the store, and on you to be in the store to demo as much as possible. Someone will undercut you on price — even one cent is enough to bump you. You need consumers asking for your product and buying your product. Social media, tradeshows, and food fares are all high-volume places for people to see your brand. 

KK: Farm Boy have a Local Marketing Program (LMP) where they reach out to local food companies. About 25 stores take part. They invite you to a few stores near your operation and feature you in the LMP area of the store. They give you 2 months. If your product does well, it goes to all the stores. We had a 2-month window and did 2 demos a week. That’s a lot for a small team.  

Do in-person meetings play a role in keeping your product on the shelves?

RG:  It depends. Face-to-face is hard because of limited time. Call and email to keep them in the loop. Do not send newsletters since they’re too impersonal. 

DS: Face-to-face is essential. Details of Bald Baker’s face-to-face approach are discussed in Part 1. 

KK: In terms of head buyer for Farm Boy, they’re looking at sales, but it’s important to support in-store people. Get feedback from the grocery manager, see where they are putting products so you might have some say where it’s showcased or where you do your demo. This can impact sales. Talk to the grocery manager and build the small relationships. 

Do you receive feedback from your retailers? If so, what form does it take? How do you integrate the feedback in your product or business model?

RG:  It’s much easier to get feedback from smaller retailers than bigger ones. Large retailers have too many products. But smaller ones can give feedback. However, you need to do the calling, and ask about progress. Nothing gets given to you. 

DS: Positive feedback is reorders. Negative feedback is not being relisted. Otherwise, we haven’t received any specific feedback [from retailers]. Direct feedback comes from the consumer and they can be very particular. 

KK: Often we don’t get feedback because the buyer isn’t connected to the stores. We are in 70 Sobeys stores, but our contact is the one buyer at head office. You need to do your own homework to get on-the-ground feedback. We try to receive feedback on areas of the label. Many retailers have different understanding about how a label is received.

What is necessary on a label? Your company could have 12 call outs, and Farm Boy has a better understanding of what consumer trends are. The whole “no-sugar” is big now. You might want to highlight “0 sugar” on the front of the label, but not the back. They can help with big picture ideas like these. 

How can you grow to fit the retail needs?

RG: So far we have received no forecasts from the retailers. They just do their own estimates. Once we are a decent size, we will have that conversation. Right now, we are doing our own forecasts.

DS: Grown incrementally. Details of Bald Baker’s approach to growth are discussed in Part 1. 

KK: By offering different skews. We only have 2 skews currently, and that’s not enough. It’s much easier if you have 4, 5, 6, 7 skews and different volume amounts. If a product is doing well, offer in 6-pack, or a 700 ml bag if your product is currently 300 ml. Give different sizing, flavours, and try to bring price down. Just give more options. 

Are there any unexpected outcomes from having your product available at a retail outlet as opposed to online?

RG: No surprises. You have to build a relationship with the retailer, do what works best for them, help support them. Retail is so woven into our day, we have a business development manager who has a part-time person dedicated to dealing with the retailer. It’s a direct relationship. 

DS: On the retail side, not yet. The surprises only kick in once you have an intermediary distributor, but we are selling direct to store. You know where you’re going what’s being ordered. When you have a distributor, they can come at you with a lot of one-time fees you don’t see coming, aren’t warned about, and are expected to pay within a day or you’ll get dropped. Branding fees, GS1 fees…  

KK: Yes — How much control you lose. The retailers decide where they put the product. It could be below the eye-line, or they could cross merchandize and put it in two places. They have the final say at the end of the day. The other aspect is like Farm Boy or Sobeys, where we are in 30 to 50 locations. You don’t have the time to train them on your product. The consumer might ask a high school student stocking shelves about bone broth and they might not even know they sell your product.  

Any final advice you care to give?

RG: Be resourceful. Ask questions. And most of all, don’t expect the retailer to do the work for you. 

DS: However much money you think you need, quadruple it. The costs you think you occur are not the costs you will incur. QUADRUPLE the amount. 

KK: Try to understand what the retailer wants. They want to hear how your product can be tailored to the mass market. How it will work in 500 stores, not just 50? Make sense on a bigger scale.

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

*Click here to read the whole series: Initiating First Contact (Part 1 of 3) and  Conquering the Red Tape (Part 2 of 3).



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