Supply chain · 3 April 2017

Selling to Whole Foods: Insight from those with stocked products

Whole Foods Aduna
Whole Foods gives suppliers the opportunity to showcase products in store
As a premium supermarket chain with a healthy lean to it, Whole Foods represents a great opportunity for up and coming food, drink and wellness brands but how do you get stocked in the first place?

Business Advice has made it one of our missions to help readers get their products stocked in some of the leading retailers Britain has to offer. From Screwfix to Sainsbury’s, and from Platet Organic to John Lewis, weve found out how different businesses have got products onto those illusive shelves and now it’s time to hear about the Whole Foods approach.

Set up by American John Mackey in 1980, Whole Foods entered the UK market in 2007 through its first site on Kensington High Street. There are now nine locations in the UK, the majority of which are in London. While the US brand has not extended its British footprint since 2014, it has increasingly become a retailer of choice for up and coming brands.

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee started off with Selfridges before moving on to selling with Whole Foods, a decision made by its founder for a specific reason. We figured, if you launch somewhere premium and amazing, then you can filter out into mainstream stores but you can’t do this the other way around, Jim Cregan told us.

He is of the belief that Whole Foods customers generally want to engage and are interested in the story behind products. The benefit of Whole Foods for Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is that the drinks maker has been able to showcase its product with in-store sampling without the procedural red tape you might find in other retailers.

Cregan’s journey to becoming a Whole Foods supplier was an unusual one, but demonstrates the length young brands must go to if a buyer is to take notice.

Whole foods lets suppliers tell their personal story
I parked our car in the loading bay of Whole Foods and got escorted upstairs by a chap who was cleaning the decking outside of the office. He interrupted a buyer’s meeting and she came out while I was stood in the lobby, as you can imagine she wasnt impressed that her meeting had been disrupted, he remembered.

that’s our startup mentality, when you’re just starting out you want to be on the shelves of Whole Foods because they support independents. They expect brand owners to be hungry and ruthless in their attempts to get into their store. When it comes to bigger retailers you need to be more strategic, and this takes more time.

Cregan believes the unique nature of Whole Foods is that it is after rad companies that have got the branding, packaging and ingredients licked. Products should also be on trend, with popularity in the US being a big plus for Whole Foods with coconut water being a good example of this. They like to know that you’re going to invest your time in in-store sampling and working with them to ensure the product launches well, he added.

Another example of a trendy product that secured a Whole Foods listing is Aduna, an Africa-inspired health food brandutilising the continent’s ancient ingredients. Banasa Williams, head of health food retail at the company, deals directly with Whole Foods and said that while every category is different, it is very helpful to have a product with strong ethical credentials or sourcing model, great packaging that can stand out on a shelf and a product that is in line with future trends.

Young brands like Aduna are given promotional spots
The Aduna pitch to Whole Foods was not drastically different? to otherretailers, and was actually made easier as the businesses have shared values. it’s very helpful to get your products stocked with a wholesaler Whole Foods already uses, particularly if they wish to trial your products in lower volumes, Williams advised.

once you’re on shelf, Whole Foods is quite supportive of small suppliers and will work together with you to build rate of sale.

She advocates coming to Whole Foods with your commercial plan and pricing structure carefully planned out. Also of importance is understanding the category your product falls in and the USP so it can stand out in a very busy store environment. Most importantly, have a plan for how to drive sales in-store once your product lands on shelf, she noted.



Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.