Posted: Mon 18th Mar 2019
It's really tough to get a supermarket listing. You're arguing for a buyer to replace an existing product with yours and competing with lots of other small businesses that are trying to do the same thing.
But it can be done. In this post, we look at how to do research, approaching buyers and nailing your pitch meeting.
Researching your target supermarket
You need to know your target audience. Visit several store locations to get a feel for what categories and products they are focusing on. It's worth remembering that the approach individual stores take will vary based on local demographics.
Check the prices and on-shelf competition. Food business expert Karen Green recommends speaking to a staff member about your category. If you find someone helpful they'll be able to tell you what the biggest sellers are, what new products have been added and other useful information.
Annual and quarterly reports can help you understand the priorities and plans big chains have made. Having an idea of the margin supermarkets are looking for is really helpful too. Founders of other food businesses can help you understand how they work.
Lots of public information is available on consumer trends. Pitching expert Paul Durrant suggested the British Library IP & Business Centre, Office for National Statistics, PayPal consumer research and Statista's 2016 survey on consumer habits. This can help you tailor your pitch and work out who to target.
How to contact supermarket buyers
Cold approaching a buyer is tough. Green suggested attending pitch the buyer events, like those run by Enterprise Nation, to meet people.
You can also attend events that buyers are speaking at as you may have a chance to chat or use it as a point of reference when you do get in touch.
LinkedIn and Instagram will help you understand their background and motivations. Follow the buyer and brand on every social media platform possible and look out for natural opportunities to interact with them.
When you've identified the correct buyer to pitch start with an introductory email. Durrant recommends explaining what you do, why the product is different to the alternatives and what you have in common with the brand you're pitching.
"Make sure emails you send are compelling and brief," Green added. "Focus on how you can grow their business, not you and your brand."
Buyers have different personalities and you need to do your homework. This means listening to talks, speaking to other people in the industry and reviewing their social media. Green suggested trying Crystal, which uses LinkedIn information to understand how people like to conduct email conversations
It can take time to get in front of people. "Persevere as buyers are busy people but don't hound them; ie. talk but don't stalk!", Durrant advised.
What happens in a supermarket buyer meeting?
Getting an appointment is half the battle. But when you're in the room with a buyer you have to make your time count. Here are a few things to think about when you're planning:
Make sure you ask for kitchen access if you need to cook something
Prepare a presentation for half your allotted time. Expect questions and delays
Make sure you know the retailer's business strategy
Practice talking about your back story, mission, financial numbers and future pipeline
Understand the logistics of how you'll get a product to the store
Know what price you will accept and what you will walk away from
Leave a brochure or short document explaining your product
"The meetings are usually very to the point. The buyer is interested in what your brand will do for them," Green added.
Durant summed up the approach to these meetings with the five Ps; preparation, pricing, publicity, presentation and post-pitch.
Buyers are looking for signals that build trust. Being able to tell the story behind your brand effectively and handling meetings professionally really help.
"The challenge for the buyer is to reduce the risk of taking on your product. That risk will be replacing an existing product, and knowing that you can meet their quality standards and volume requirements," Green explained.
Proof of traction is really helpful. Demonstrating the progress you've made will help reassure buyers. Sales in independent stores and markets, social media followers, and reviews will help, as well as other listings if you have them.
Industry statistics can help on this front too. Knowing the trends that relate to your product and how it fits into the overall market helps build trust and justify your pitch, added Durrant.
Don't forget to follow-up
Have a strategy on how you're going to keep in touch with the buyer. Make sure you leave the meeting understanding what the next steps are and anything you can do to help them make their decision.
It's important to remember that getting a listing takes time, Green said. She has known food businesses that take three years to navigate the process. "Don't be disheartened by 'no', it can lead to 'yes'."