Business development · 28 October 2019

4 ways to get your brand onto supermarket shelves

The overwhelming majority of British shoppers regularly buy from big supermarkets either instore or online. So, if you’ve developed a new product you’ll be very keen to get it on their shelves. Once your product’s in the leading supermarkets, brand awareness will improve dramatically. This will grow sales, and position you as a reputable supplier, leading to more orders.

Having launched four new snacks brands in the UK market and 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.

Let me share my top tips for getting your product listed:

1. Understand your market

Most founders have done some research into their market, trends and competitors, you’ll 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.

In meetings with supermarket buyers, this knowledge will help convince them of the longevity of your product and brand, making them more likely to engage with your business.

2. Research your buyer

Think of buyers as 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 e.g. Summer sales are often planned the previous autumn.

Next, turn your attention to the individual buyer. Get as much information about the buyer in advance: How long have they been in the role? Do they have particular product expertise?

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. Know your facts and figures It will be difficult to negotiate a good deal without all the key financial and logistics information clearly in your head.

Get clued up on the small details…

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.

Get this stuff wrong, even a little and 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 have.

3. Have realistic expectations

Getting into supermarkets can takes months or even years. Make sure you build this into your forecasts and cash flow. Expecting everything to happen quickly could leave you short of money, scuppering your business before it gets going.

Invest in your brand…

Promotions are a great way to gain new customers and boost sales. Supermarkets 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.

4. Have a clear listing rationale

Buyers are constantly approached by companies wanting to trade with them, and you need to stand out from the crowd, especially in saturated markets. Make sure you can 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 considering, you’ll have a very strong listing argument.

For example, my business, AP Brands, offers snacks without additives, and most are vegan. This capitalises on the healthy, vegan trend as well as the growth in the snacks market, providing clear USPs and a strong listing rationale. Keep going A ‘no’ isn’t necessarily forever. You need to have a thick skin in the Food & Drink industry.

Be open to shifts and changes…

If a buyer isn’t interested in your products today, it doesn’t mean they won’t be six months’ time. 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.

I wish I could offer you a silver bullet to guarantee a sale or even a meeting with a big supermarket buyer. However, the truth is that it takes hard graft, patience, and persistence to break into the supermarkets. Keep going!

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

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.

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