Does your product belong on a supermarket shelf?
For entrepreneurs with new food or beverage products, getting listed by a supermarket can feel like a watershed moment for your brand.
Your brand awareness is likely to skyrocket with sales following. You also get positive brand association by being seen in a major supermarket, which can help secure more stockists.
Dealing with these goliath brands, however, can make even the fiercest entrepreneur feel out of their depth. The stakes are high – getting stocked could mean make-or-break for your brand – and a loss of face can damage your chances with other supermarket buyers.
Over the past few years, I have been working on the release of four distinct brands of snacks, including getting them into major supermarket chains. I have learned the hard way what supermarket buyers need and want.
With any luck, you can use my experience to get a head start, avoid the same pitfalls, and make your brand wildly successful.
Here are my seven key tips to get your product stocked by supermarkets;
1. Look at your market from their perspective
As I’m sure you know, research is incredibly important when launching a new product. You’ll have looked at trends, market growth, your target audience, and key competitors.
When pitching to supermarket buyers, however, you need to see the market from their perspective;
- Where do products in your market sit on the shelf?
- Which of your competitors are stocked in other supermarket chains?
- Is there any major seasonality to your product segment?
Considering these questions and having good answers to hand will help you convince buyers of your brand’s appeal, points of differentiation, and longevity.
Ultimately, supermarkets want long-lasting relationships with brands that sell well.
2. Know the buyers you’ll speak to
Supermarket buyers are individuals representing a business with strict guidelines and procedures. As such, it’s important to know both about the business and the individual if you are going to stand the best chance of success.
One of the key things to know is when supermarkets have their buying window for each season.
We worked hard to develop a product we thought would be ideal for summer buying in time for spring. Then we found out that supermarket’s buying window for summer closes in autumn the year before!
So, don’t be caught out like we were, find out the buying windows before you pitch your product.
As well as the business, you can also find out a fair amount about the individual buyer. It may be helpful to know how long they’ve been in the role, for example, or whether they have worked much with particular product ranges before.
I suggest taking to LinkedIn to find the buyers prior to any meeting. Find out as much as you can about them and then tailor your pitch to the individual.
3. Nail down your commercials
It is incredibly difficult to negotiate a good deal if you don’t have your commercials – your logistics and financial info – front of mind.
A small change to how deliveries are made can easily swallow the entirety of your profit margin, for example. Think about the following before you start negotiating;
- What will be the cost of delivering to multiple warehouses across the country?
- How much wiggle room do you have on the cost price?
- What average margin would the buyer expect on your product?
On the one hand, you want to make your product as attractive to buyers as possible. On the other, pricing too low could see your business running at a loss.
Even if you are making a profit, if you can’t deliver on the promise you made, you’ll ruin your reputation as a reliable supplier.
You need to be attractive yet realistic; competitive on price yet still be able to follow through on your pricing strategy.
Nailing your commercials down before you meet with buyers will mean you have the information at hand to make an informed decision and find the right price for you.
4. Be patient
Supermarkets are behemoths that tend to move at a glacial pace. Getting your product onto shelves won’t be a quick process – it may take months or perhaps even years.
Entrepreneurs who expect faster results will be disappointed. But far worse, they may build supermarket sales into their forecasts too early, which will significantly impact cash flow and leave you short on cash.
So, while being stocked in supermarkets may be a great aspiration, it’s a good idea not to put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you are also reaching out to smaller retailers to get some revenue coming in while the big supermarkets make their buying decisions.
5. Prepare to promote your brand
One way to rapidly gain new customers and give your sales figures a boost is to launch a promotion. In fact, supermarkets usually expect you to run regular promotions, which they may charge fees to list.
Going into a buyer meeting with some promotions already planned will show that you’re ahead of the game, that you’ve factored the promotions into your financial forecasts, and you are actively prepared to invest in your brand.
Not only will this make you far more attractive to buyers but you’ll also be prepared financially, helping you grow rapidly yet sustainably.
6. Stand out from the crowd
If you are going to compete with the tens of companies looking to supply a supermarket you need to have a clear listing argument – a reason for them to list your brand over your competitors.
You can identify your USPs, highlight the trends behind your product proposition, and make a strong listing argument for your product.
7. Stick with it!
When it comes to supermarkets, persistence is as much a virtue as patience. Just because they’ve said no this time doesn’t mean they will say the same next time.
Six months can be a long time in retail and trends move pretty fast these days. So, make sure you stick with it!
It’s important to get feedback from your buyer meetings. If they decided not to stock your product, you need to know why. Is there something you can change? Or perhaps you need to wait for your market to mature.
With this information to hand, you can plan for the perfect time to recontact the buyer and schedule another meeting.
I wish I could offer you a single killer tip or ‘hack’ that will get your product stocked in big supermarket chains. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time, effort and resilience.
It’s a great feeling when you do eventually get your products listed, however, and it can often lead to more buyers getting in touch with you.
So, even if it feels like an overwhelming task, stick with it and you’ll find success. Good luck!
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Thomas Lock, founder and Managing Director of Awfully Posh (AP) Brands, a FMCG snacks company. Tom launched his pork scratching brand, Awfully Posh, in 2013 and soon launched a further three snacks brands. AP Brands’ snacks are now stocked in supermarket giants such as ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose, Amazon & Wholefoods Market.