Industry research has shown that of the 29% of shoppers who walk down confectionery aisles in supermarkets about 83% buy an item, so customers obviously know exactly what they want. But that makes it harder for new launches to break through. However, Safeway's confectionery buyer Claire Dirdal insists we've picked a good company to approach. "We have a good reputation for product launches, getting behind them and making them work ­ we're well known for that. We do like to be first with products so that we can offer a point of difference." She adds: "Shelf space is at a premium but especially so at Safeway as our average store size tends to be smaller than our competitors, so products have to work doubly hard." Before our meeting we sent a speculative letter to the buyer about our product and reasons why the chain should stock it, along with market data and samples, just as any other prospective supplier would. It should be noted that it's not only one buyer's tastebuds that decide the fate of a product. Dirdal says her colleagues also try samples and she often conducts straw polls before deciding whether to take the product any further. Safeway aims to try every sample that hits the desk and to reply, whether it is interested in the product or not. The first thing she wants to know is when we want to launch. Easter's just over and she's working on Christmas, so we should have been a lot quicker off the mark if we had wanted the product on shelf by November for the festive season. But as Caffeine Hitz isn't seasonal, you usually reckon on about 12 weeks' lead time. She says: "If I like something and think there's somewhere to go with it, I need time to manage down other products." In other words ­ if our product goes in the shops, then another will have to come out. Dirdal obviously controls stock levels and is constantly talking to suppliers about how their lines are doing. However, if a supplier wants to get another new product listed, it can work with Safeway to help phase out one of its less popular lines by, for example, doing a special offer to shift units fast. Dirdal says she's no different to any other buyer when she repeats the mantra to suppliers: "Please appreciate that I don't have elastic shelf space." So, to have had a head start with our product, we would already have identified the chain's older, less lucrative lines that Caffeine Hitz could replace and we would also have done proper consumer research. Nowadays, it's not unusual for manufacturers to have also test marketed in other countries before approaching supermarkets. If a buyer likes the sample and the letter has done its job, a meeting will be arranged at the Hayes HQ. Most potential suppliers get between 30 minutes and an hour. Although power point presentations are great, says Dirdal, she likes to be able to keep notes on printed packs. Dirdal thinks of herself as a collaborative buyer and prefers suppliers to be honest about their range and limitations. "I want to look into the future and make it work for both parties' benefit. I'm interested in the thought process behind the product so I know best how to use and display the product within my category. I want to understand the marketing behind it and its potential contribution to Safeway's overall range mix." The supplier must do its homework for the meeting, as Dirdal says: "I want to know that you know everything about this product. I want to know why and how you came up with it, what the product could be worth, what the margin would be, who your closest competitor is, what you're going to spend on advertising ­ basically, why I should give it shelf space. You should also have thought about where it should sit in store, and while details such as how many products are in a case are important (display trays can be preferable to single stack items as one facing wouldn't have much impact and this can also help store replenishment), six in an outer case is manageable, but 24 can be trickier. The buyers will also want to know where and how often a manufacturer can deliver." So, having a great product isn't enough and, even after demonstrating that you've thought out an instore strategy, you've really got to sell it. Dirdal says she's not impressed when someone lacks enthusiasm. "It's about product passion ­ I see a lot of people who are being told to sell something and you can tell they're not bothered." It's not enough to be a great salesman because if the product is distinctly average, it won't get a look in. However, Dirdal admits that a great product presentation could tip the balance if she is undecided. But overkill won't. Unrealistic claims about unit sales leave her cold. "It's better to be passionate, but realistic," she advises. You can't be a shady character either, because a supplier's financial background is checked for a dodgy financial past which might get in the way of an agreement. But if you're a clean and keen supplier the door, at least is open and one dilemma can be whether to try to get all the supermarkets interested, or only one. For the big boys, like Mars, it's a no-brainer, as most of the chains won't want to be left out, but for us and our new niche product, it may be easier and better to arrange an exclusive deal. At this stage, buyers will either look at packet mock-ups or the finished product with the supplier and Dirdal says that occasionally she's happy to work with suppliers to further develop ideas if they're not quite right. However, there's a caveat: it wouldn't go down too well with Safeway if the supplier then took that advice off to other major multiples instead. Now for the big question. Does Dirdal like Caffeine Hitz? Her first words are:"I think it's quite good for a very targeted audience because it's very niche and modern." She likes the innovative packaging but with the one qualification, that the pack fails to say enough about the product's energy benefits. "But it looks like it is supposed to look. I think launching is definitely feasible." In fact Dirdal likes the idea so much that she suggests a sampling trial in a few key London stores ­ in keeping with our target audience of young, urban professionals on the go. Or, perhaps, the product could be given away by stores which, for example, are doing pizza deliveries. She reckons something like Caffeine Hitz needs to be sampled to encourage impulse trial and pick-up. She suggests doing this on three consecutive Fridays to get a dialogue going with the same kind of shopper. Safeway is particularly keen to support product sampling because of its new stores and new formats ­ the buyers often get very involved in this and can monitor sales on a daily basis. And because a small supplier's funds are likely to be limited, a good way to test a new product like Caffeine Hitz is to put it in a free standing unit which can be cheaper and is a good way of giving product stand out. Dirdal advises against point of sale material because of the expense and says it would be better and cheaper to have an impactful header card on a standalone display. A useful marketing idea is to link the launch of a product to a major event and, in the case of Caffeine Hitz, the London Marathon would have been a good hook because it is an energy product. But our timing was a bit out... Once Dirdal has decided to take on a product she talks to managers of stores where she believes the product could sell. At the same time the manufacturer looks into delivery sizes and times. "Rather than just pushing product out to stores, I want to get the managers' buy in," she says. The manufacturer must supply a product description, such as size and cost, so it can be set up as a "live" product on the chain's lists. Dirdal says she, like other buyers at Safeway, wants to deliver a range to excite consumers. "We work to the bottom line, but we also want to give our customers a good and different range offering." It looks as if Caffeine Hitz could be up to the job. n {{FEATURES }}