Selling More: Getting Your Food Product Into Stores (Part 1)

Posted on October 26, 2013 by

All food business owners dream of their brand landing on major grocery shelves across the country. Usually, you have to prove yourself by starting out small. I'll describe the usual process I've gone through for my products. There's also a solid article from a few years ago in the NY Times on getting onto retail shelves.

Start Small

If you already have a local store in mind for your product, walk in during a slower time of day and ask to speak with the "buyer". Explain who you are and show them your product. The first thing they'll see is your packaging (more on that below). They might want a taste, but can make a decision solely on your product packaging and your pitch.

Show Up Prepared

You want to show up prepared, even for these smaller stores. Your packaging should be professional and appealing. If it's a healthy or natural store, they'll probably want to see nutrition facts and ingredient lists - these stores often don't want foods with HFCS or other unhealthy ingredients. So, know your audience.

You should have pricing already set (our food product costing tool can help), because if a buyer is interested they'll ask on the spot. You don't need to have a minimum order size, but they'll ask that as well - so have a number in mind even if it's just made up.

If it's a smaller store you can talk about these things with the buyer in person, but it's also nice to come prepared with sell sheets and pricing tables to leave with the buyer.

Lastly, it's nice to have a case of your product in the car in case they are really interested. That way you avoid having to follow up, ship, and finalize the sale on the spot.

Demos and Samples

A great way to get your food in the door is by offering to do an in-store demo. Whole Foods has a very formal process for demos, but most stores will let you do demos as well. They're a great way to talk to customers, have them try your product, and show that your food is a great fit in a particular store.

If a demo goes well, you're virtually guaranteed to end up on the shelves of that store.

Coming back regularly for demos increases awareness and is simply a great sales opportunity.

Distributors and Brokers

If your product has the margins for it, you can work with a distributor or broker to get your product onto shelves. Depending on the company, you may need some scale or track record to be picked up for distribution, so this is not always an option for a small food business. Be prepared to give up 5-15% for a broker and up to 35% for a distributor. See how it all adds up by trying our recipe costing tool.

Let Them Contact You

The best way to end up in a store is to have the buyer call you. That means customers are already asking for your product, because they've seen friends eating it, seen it in another store, or read about it online. Not only are they interested from the get-go, but you'll be able to negotiate better terms than walking into the store on your own.

Participate in food markets - that's where food bloggers hang out to get the inside scoop on up and coming products. Reach out on your own and send samples to bloggers - get feedback, build a relationship and get the word out.

Maintain a social media presence and start conversations with your customers.

Wrap Up

Is that helpful? Any other questions about getting on shelves? Would you want a "script" for talking to a buyer? Comment below.


About Lev Berlin

Lev Berlin ReciPal SlantShack Author Bio

Lev Berlin is the founder & CEO of ReciPal. Having previously been a founder of SlantShack Jerky, he needed nutrition labels and simple tools to start and run the business. He's read the FDA food labeling code countless times in the process of creating ReciPal and helping small food businesses with their labels. He's reviewed and created thousands of food labels, and been a mentor and guest speaker at food incubators, food business courses, and regulatory conferences, like Brooklyn Foodworks and ICE.

After graduating from Princeton with an engineering degree, Lev was a management consultant, then founder or early employee at half a dozen startups. He loves nothing more than helping other small businesses get off the ground and achieve their goals.


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