3 Questions You Need to Ask Potential Retail Buyers

Congratulations! You did it.

You got your foot in the door and now you have a coveted one-on-one meeting with a retail buyer. Often a retail buyer works within a specific product category, such as “protein” or “dry goods” or “frozen.” This person’s main job is saying yes or no to what’s being sold on the shelves.

And we’re talking many, many shelves.

Whether they’re working for a regional grocer, a national supermarket chain or some other sales venue like c-stores, an average retail buyer has the decision-making power to add your product to the inventory at stores across their entire sales region, and sometimes that region may include dozens or even hundreds of locations.

That’s why this is a moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s a nerve-wracking, high-risk, high-reward opportunity. Show them you’re not just another “me-too product” by steering the conversation toward a bigger picture.

Food rep meeting with retail category buyer to pitch emerging food brand to regional supermarket or local grocery
Pitching your emerging food brand to a retail category buyer? Ask these 3 questions to show them you’re thinking about the big picture.

Trees, Meet Forest.

There’s an old proverb that goes, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.”

It’s a warning to people who tend to focus in on small details at the expense of the bigger picture. In pressure-filled situations, it’s a totally natural response. When nervous, we tend to stick to what we know, like, for example, a product of our own making.

However, this tendency is also a trap many small food brands fall into in moments like these.

You see, your product is “the trees” in this situation. (Of course you’re going to have to cover the features, benefits, price points and various other aspects of your product. If you’re not the expert of your own product, then who is?)

But retail buyers don’t want to you stop there.

They expect you to also be concerned about the “forest,” which, from where they’re sitting, is the larger consumer landscape. They’ll expect you to know who your biggest competition is, which way trends are heading and how your product is innovative and distinct.

In other words, your meeting with a retail buyer is an exercise in seeing the situation from their point of view.

So drop your canned sales speech. Retail buyers can tell when you’ve slipped into autopilot mode and you’re looking at them like the mirror you rehearsed into the night before.

At NewPoint, we interviewed category buyers from a number of large supermarket chains to find out what piques their interest during a sales spiel. Here are a few of the questions they’d love to hear being asked by you or your brand’s food rep…

1. Ask retail buyers, “What’s an ideal partnership look like to you?”

The operative word for nearly all retail buyers is partnership. Retail buyers see their food manufacturers, brands and suppliers as part of a larger team with a common goal. Most food brands lower their sights to just getting on the shelf.

From a retail-buyer perspective, however, getting on the shelf is just the beginning. They want you to help them get product past the register as well.

Asking about an ideal partnership, then, allows the retail buyer to voice a lot of “boxes” that you can then “check.” Retail buyers will probably list food-industry virtues like “timely, reliable order fulfillment,” “willingness to innovate,” “in-store demos” or other marketing initiatives to help motivate turns on the shelf. Accordingly, you can speak to how you can deliver on these concerns.

Not only hearing out these concerns but proactively seeking them out demonstrates to retail buyers that you’re genuinely there to grow business together.

2. Ask retail buyers, “What are my blind spots?”

Given that retail buyers are first and foremost looking for quality business partners, the first question shows you know what they’re looking for: a real partnership. This second question shows you have the quality of a good partner: the ability to listen.

While the temptation is to have everything buttoned up presentation-wise, a little humility go can go a long way. A product, no matter how amazing, is only as good as the people behind it. This question demonstrates, not matter how much you might know (or think you know) about your product category, target audience or consumer trends, you’re still a coachable partner who’s willing to learn what could be done better.

3. Ask retail buyers, “What’s your five-year plan look like?”

Finally, nothing screams “big picture” like asking about a five-year plan. Now, not every food retailer may have a clearly hammered out vision in the form of a five-year plan. But most will at least know immediate and longer-term challenges they’re looking to address.

One upside to this question is that gives you some privileged intel as to where this specific retailer–and the industry in general–is headed. The other upside to this question is that, nine times out of ten, the question will be flipped back on you.

Considering what was just revealed to you, this is a moment to talk about how your brand nudges this retailer towards its future vision. It’s also a moment to display a willingness to innovate in ways that help you better align with where this business wants to go.

Still looking for more advice on being prepared for a meeting with retail buyers? You might want to read here about what goes into a killer pitch deck.

Or contact NewPoint. We can help guide you through the retail buyer presentation process.