The doors and scores Securing listings with the multiples isn't easy but smaller Scotttish companies have had the uphill path smoothed for them by a series of Meet the Buyer events on home soil. Sheila Eggleston reports Getting your foot in a multiple buyer's door isn't easy at the best of times. But for small operators, access to these hallowed portals is much harder. Finding a way around this dilemma has resulted in Scotland's Enterprise organisations initiating Meet the Buyer events in central locations on home soil. Scottish Enterprise has held three this year enabling suppliers to meet with Somerfield, Safeway and the Co-operative Retail Trading Group (CRTG). Project manager Dawn Lamarra says these events have been particularly good for small companies. "We get a brief and work with the retailer to identify their needs. "Then we come up with the companies that meet that need and invite them," she says. "We don't take part in any negotiations but we do encourage companies to keep on top of the buyers once they have been accepted, and to keep plugging away." Safeway saw around 40 companies and is in negotiations with six ­ Simply Organic, Scottish Farmed Venison, William Sword, Scotbake, Mitchells Dairy and Tilly Confectionery. Safeway has been actively focusing on Scottish products and now has a trading link in Scotland in the form of business development manager Andy MacLachlan, who vets new companies and existing companies' new products. CRTG took a 10-strong buying team to Glasgow and Inverness and in Glasgow came face to face with 85 suppliers. CRTG business development manager John Sheen says it's great because it brings a buying team to the relevant area in one fell swoop. "Both Scottish Enterprise and the Highlands & Islands Enterprise have been tremendously helpful and supportive. "At these events you can find some real gems, and sometimes there are products which have surprised even us. We have already started trading with two suppliers on a trial basis and we are considering a further 19 as the range reviews kick in." The CRTG's buying team in Manchester represents 2,000 stores nationwide and products are tested in three ways: in Scotland only, nationally in 2,000 stores, or under own label. "It's always difficult to say when they will go in because of range reviews, but we always make sure we contact the suppliers within three weeks to let them know we want to progress with them, and tell them when the reviews are happening," says Sheen. "Once we find the right supplier and can satisfy all the requirements, we do build genuine partnerships with these suppliers." Even the companies that aren't selected learn a lot from these sessions and aren't put off from trying again and again, says Lamarra. Another programme to help them is called Market Advantage. Arranged by Scottish Enterprise, it offers a range of workshops and seminars to help suppliers deal with issues such as negotiating with buyers, ECR and foodservice. It can take a long time to gain shelf space even if a company has been selected by a multiple. But the ones that make it reap the benefits. Confectionery manufacturer Golden Casket attended the CRTG and Safeway events and was successful at both. Md Douglas Rae says: "One of the difficulties nowadays is getting appointments with these people. These events were helpful because it gave you an immediate entrée to put your case in relaxed surroundings." Through the multiples it supplies Millions and designer packs of sweets. It already supplies Somerfield, Sainsbury and Tesco, and in the latter it is currently negotiating to go national. His only criticism is that most of the multiples want to take the product just for Scotland rather than the whole of the UK. "When English companies go to them, they get a list for the UK. I can understand this in the early days, but once a product is successful I would like to see the door open wider to Scottish companies," says Rae. "Without these programmes we wouldn't otherwise have got into the Co-op and Safeway. Now we have acquired listings, it is up to us to make sure we get the appropriate distribution in Scotland and extend south of the border," he adds. Sainsbury spends £200m a year on food and non food from 90 suppliers based in Scotland. It has 750 regional lines in Scotland and 128 of those lines have been introduced since the start of 2001. The chain's Supplier Development Programme started a year ago and last met with suppliers in November. "We gather together the suppliers we think we can do business with and take them through what we can offer and see if they want to go forward with us," says a spokesman. "Supply and demand determines whether it crosses the border, but we see ourselves playing an important role in offering support. We also look at twinning producers as well, such as putting two small businesses with a larger manufacturer. We are particularly keen in doing this in organics." One of Sainsbury's success stories is Simon Howie Foods which provides the multiple with meat products and which, it says, is helping them to capitalise on the rapidly rising speciality food market. Simon Howie started life as a butcher shop 13 years ago and since then has built a thriving butchery, retail and foodservice business. A 12,000 sq ft production facility will be tripled by 2002. The company was one of 10 small businesses which spent six months last year on Sainsbury's Supplier Development Programme attending many seminars and one-to-ones to let them see how a small company can develop. One of its key lines, haggis, went national in Sainsbury in January and the multiple is aiming to re-establish it as an all year round purchase and not just for Burns Night. Md Colin Bussey says: "We've gone from producing 70,000 haggis for Sainsbury to 250,000 branded the Haggis Company Scotland. We also supply them with a range of breakfast lines, and all the butchery in Scotland is under the Simon Howie Butchers branding. This summer we've introduced a lamb burger and we are in discussion about a range of speciality sausages." The Grampian Food Forum is hoping to hold a Meet the Buyer session in September, and in November it plans to take a party of suppliers to the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham. Grampian Food Forum's annual awards have always helped to promote companies. Marketing executive Louise Stratton says that on the back of these, companies get listed by the multiples. "They may not win, but they get noticed," she adds. {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}