Every business starting out will face the same, often frustrating, issue - gaining listings. You could have the best-tasting chocolate, or the most authentic-tasting curry paste the UK has ever seen - but it is all for nothing if you are not able to charm your way on to supermarket shelves.
Competition has never been more fierce, particularly as many supermarkets have reduced SKUs. Effectively, there are more companies than ever vying for less shelf space than before.
With a high concentration of similar products in general, and particularly in a market like jam, it is essential that your products offer a point of difference. Whether that is taste, packaging, your marketing story or some other key factor that gives you standout, it must appeal to both supermarket buyers and ultimately, consumers.
Our point of difference is our No Sugar Added range, which we recently relabelled. Particularly attractive to potential buyers as a result of the ongoing war on sugar, our product also stands out on taste and we have just enjoyed the extension of our existing listing at Morrisons. The increased emphasis on sugar in recent years helped us win the pitch, and having stocked our products for 25 years, the chain added three new flavours to the three it previously carried across multiple UK branches.
Of course, the hardest part of building a successful food and drink business is gaining your first listings. Without an existing reputation, I’m sure you don’t need to be told that it can be difficult getting a foot in the door.
Once you have your stand-out product - the best that it can be - it is essential to pitch it correctly. It can be difficult to get hold of those with supermarket buying power, but not impossible. Go through the appropriate channels and contact the right category buyer. Building relationships is key here. Believe in your product and be respectful but tenacious - these are busy people and they will receive hundreds of similar requests a week.
Ultimately, you must meet face to face and so this puts a lot of pressure on having sufficient data to impress your target into meeting. You’ll need information on the flavour and ingredients profile, history and background of the brand and customer research to convince them your product is a proposition worth stocking. When seated across the table, this is when you must be able to deliver on every aspect of the product and how you believe it would work inside the store of your potential partner. Think Dragons’ Den - failure to answer any question adequately may well lose you the pitch.
Bear in mind that you will never be invited to pitch, but must always act proactively and chase listings. While having history with a retailer does make it easier to achieve listing extensions, it is not foolproof and still represents a lot of hard work.
Winning listings is a long game with pitch processes taking up to a year and sometimes more, but if you believe in your product and strategy, there is no reason that with a good deal of patience and perseverance, you will see your products on a coveted supermarket shelf one day too.
Laurence Hybs is managing director of Stute Foods