I have just had a familiar conversation with a client. She has a great range of products that are commercially strong and well-priced, a brand that is engaged with consumers and a good rate of sale.
But strategically, she is unsure about whether to go after retail, preferring to focus on foodservice, travel outlets and export. So what are the retailers doing to put her and other successful branded SMEs off, and how could they become more nimble?
First, buyer availability - some retail buyers get over 100 emails a week with new concepts and maybe it is too much work to reply to them all. Morrisons addressed this by having regional supplier days last year and Booths has an online application whereby it considers every product. Maybe the others need to do the same.
Second, speed to market - most retailers rebuild their displays once or twice a year, which saves money on store costs but this can make it very difficult for them to keep up with food trends and launches. Got a concept for this Christmas? You have probably missed the deadline. There are few opportunities to shoehorn in products that come along later in the year. Maybe retailers need to have a couple of bonus slots per category for extra listings.
Third, regionality - a lot of successful SME brands work well in London but may be too expensive and/or less relevant nationally. Some retailers have local offices and provenance but are they missing a trick by not providing London-centric ranges?
And finally, the fear of imitation. They say imitation is the best form of flattery but when you have worked long and hard on a product, the last thing you want is to present it to your favourite retailer only to find they take the idea and create an own label. I have three clients that this has happened to and many more that ask if they can get retailers to sign an NDA before they present - it is unheard of in the industry for this to happen.
Small, agile SMEs are generating significant investment and interest from bigger brands, and multiple retailers need to realise there is a massive opportunity to create value through this disruptive sector - before it finds other ways to reach customers.
Karen Green is founder of Food Mentor