If you’ve created a new retail product, getting it onto supermarket shelves may seem like the holy grail. Whether customers shop online or in-store, the overwhelming majority of British shoppers regularly buy from big supermarkets. Getting your product stocked, therefore, dramatically improves brand awareness, grows sales, and positions you as a reputable supplier, leading to more big orders.
When you’re just starting out, however, approaching and dealing with large supermarkets can be daunting. Get it right and you will set your brand up for incredible success; get it wrong and you could ruin any chance of making money from your products. Get it really wrong and you could lose money and your reputation before you even get started.
Having launched four new snacks brands into the UK market over the past few years and having got them onto the shelves of a number of major supermarkets, I have some experience of the process. Hopefully, you can learn from my experiences, avoid my mistakes, and find success for your brand.
So, without further ado, here are my seven top tips for getting your product listed with the major supermarkets:
Step 1 ‒ Know your market
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 step 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 ‒ Research your buyer
Buyers can be thought of on two levels: the business as a whole and buyers as individuals.
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, turn your attention to 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 a good tool 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 ‒ Know your commercials
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 in your head.
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 wrong, even a little, 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 while taking into account the various demands and requirements each supermarket will place on you.
Step 4 ‒ Be realistic
Getting into supermarkets can be a process that takes 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, scuppering your business before it even gets going.
Step 5 ‒ Prepare to invest in your brand
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 ‒ Have a clear 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 ‒ Be persistent
A ‘no’ isn’t necessarily forever, and you need to have a thick skin in the Food & Drink industry. If a buyer isn’t interested in your products now, it doesn’t mean they won’t be six months down the line. Don’t give up. 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, try reaching out to the buyer again.
It would be nice if I could offer you a silver bullet that would guarantee a sale or even just a meeting with a big supermarket buyer – but unfortunately that bullet doesn’t exist. The truth is that it takes hard graft, patience, and persistence. Breaking into your first supermarket chain, however, is a great feeling and often leads to further supermarket sales. Stick with it and good luck!