You’ve created a new retail product. You can imagine it on the shelves of the leading retailers. What do you need to do to get the buyers at the leading supermarkets interested in listing your brand?
Particularly if your company is new the task of approaching, let alone negotiating with the supermarket buyers can seem a daunting prospect. You may find yourself envisioning a future where you’ve got it right and your brand is set up for success. Or you’ve got it wrong and you have possibly ruined any chance of making money from your products and may have damaged your reputation with the buyers.
Having launched four snacks brands into the UK market over the past few years and got them onto the shelves of several major supermarkets, I’ve gained some insights. I’m hoping you can learn from my experiences, avoid my mistakes, and find success for your brand as you navigate the process.
Here are the steps I recommend for getting your product listed with top supermarkets:
Step 1 ‒ Even more research
Most founders have done some research into their market, trends and competitors, but to be successful in the world of supermarket sales, you need to up your game.
You need to understand your product category, inside out. You’ll need to know where your product will sit on the shelf, for example, who your competitors are in each supermarket chain and what they’re doing, whether the category is in growth or decline, and whether there are any market trends to be aware of.
Having this information front-of-mind going into a meeting with supermarket buyers will help convince them of the longevity of your product and brand, making them much more likely to engage with your business.
Step 2 ‒ Know your buyers
Start by finding out when the supermarket’s buying window is for each of your key sales periods. You may be surprised by how early supermarkets plan their seasonal product ranges. Summer sales are often planned the previous autumn, for example.
Next, consider the buyer as an individual. Try to get as much information about the buyer in advance: How long have they been in the role? Do they have any particular product expertise? What previous experience do they have? LinkedIn can be good for this research and will help you develop a clear idea of who you’ll be selling to and what they’ll need/want to hear.
Step 3 ‒ Have key numbers at your fingertips
One of the most important things to have clear in your mind is your commercials. It will be difficult to negotiate a good deal without all the key financial and logistics information at your fingertips.
For example, you need to know your exact cost price, including delivery to the supermarket’s warehouse ‒ and remember, they may have more than one warehouse. You need to know the average margin the buyer would expect on the type of product you sell, and what impact this will have on the potential retail price.
If you get this stuff even a little wrong, you could hamper your growth forecasts with a cost that’s too low, or price yourself out of consideration with a cost that’s too high. Pricing needs to reflect your sales strategy and take account of the various demands and requirements each supermarket will place on you.
Step 4 ‒ Have realistic expectations
The process of getting into supermarkets can take months or even years. Make sure you build this into your forecasts and cash flow. Expecting everything to happen quickly could leave you caught short of money, undoing your business before it even gets going.
Step 5 ‒ Plan brand promotions
Promotions are a great way to gain new customers and boost sales. Supermarkets also tend to expect you to fund promotions several times a year and may charge fees for running the promotions or listing the products.
If you can get ahead of these expectations by planning your own promotions throughout the year, you can factor these promotions into your financials and present them to supermarket buyers fully-formed. This will make your brand a more attractive proposition and ensure you generate the profit you need to meet your projections.
Step 6 ‒ Develop a strong listing argument
Buyers are approached on a daily basis by companies who wish to trade with them, and you need to stand out from the crowd, especially in saturated markets. As such, you need to be able to articulate clearly why the buyer should list your product over potentially hundreds of other products, and why consumers will pick your product over the competition.
Much of this will be based on your competitor and market research. If you can show clear USPs that capitalise on a growing trend and which no other brands are even considering, you’ll have a very strong listing argument. For example, my business, AP Brands, offers snacks without additives, most of which are also vegan. This capitalises on the healthy, vegan trend as well as the growth in the snacks market, providing clear USPs and a strong listing argument.
Step 7 ‒ Work with persistence
A ‘no’ isn’t necessarily forever. Trends change, buying habits change, even buyers change. Make sure to solicit feedback from buyers (both positive and negative), keep an eye on shifts in the market, and, when things change, reach out to the buyer again.
I’d love to be able to give you a guaranteed way to achieve a sale or even a meeting with a big supermarket buyer. There’s no recipe for instant results. You’ll need to work hard and keep plugging away. With drive and persistence you may well find yourself celebrating as you get your first break with one of the big supermarkets. I wish you every success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Lock is the founder and Managing Director of Awfully Posh (AP) Brands, a FMCG snacks company. Referred to by the Daily Telegraph as “the man who made pork scratchings posh”, Tom launched his pork scratching brand, Awfully Posh, in 2013. He soon launched a further three snacks brands, The British Crisp Co., The British Popcorn Co., and Create A Crisp, selling a total of over 5 million bags to date. AP Brands’ snacks are now stocked in supermarket giants such as ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose, Amazon & Wholefoods Market.