Food Buyer’s Roundtable Q&A #3: Help Sell Your Food Product

Your Questions Answered: Q&A 3rd Round of the Food Buyer’s Roundtable: Help Sell Your Food Product

Hello again — as promised, here is our 3rd installment of the last in our NewPoint Emerging Food Brands Conference workshop Q&A series. We started with Social Media Marketing, attacked Vetting a Co-Packer, and followed that up with a Financing for Growth roundtable and workshop. Now it’s time for the roundtable that set the whole conference in motion a year ago: The Food Buyers Q&A. Here’s how this works:

Emerging food brands always seem to ask the same question – how do I get on the retail shelf? In their eyes, the retail shelf represents the most significant “win” they can imagine. Smart emerging food brands know to chase more than one channel to increase sales. They and at all their options including specialty vs. mass retail, bulk, foodservice, and online sales but that is a post for another day. This year’s buyer’s roundtable brings together five professional food buyers and managers from retail and food service who offer advice on how to best get them to “buy” an emerging brand’s food product.

Questions about talking to a retail or food service food buyer? The content of this Food Buyer’s Roundtable (and all program content at our conference) was submitted as questions during registration by the 64 food company/brand attendees.  Our expert presenters then addressed the questions—and more—in their programs. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting each presentation to the “Intel” section of our website. So check back often!

Quick Reminder – Our Expert Food Buyer’s Roundtable:

Tom Coleman, Director of Retail Dining with Purdue Dining & Catering, Purdue University. Responsible for the oversight of 25 retail operations on campus. These operations consist of street brands, private brands, and convenience stores.

Eric Wine, Grocery Specialist for Fresh Time Farmer’s Market covering all Indiana stores. Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets provides a healthy and fresh new way to grocery shop.

Bob Baesler, President of Baesler’s Market in Terre Haute and Sullivan, Indiana. In business since 1894, Baesler’s Market strives to maintain fast and friendly customer service, as well as the finest cuts of meat, premium produce, and delicatessen.

Rick Hopkins, Director of Food & Beverage at Market District responsible for the fresh departments of our Caramel, Indiana store. Market District is dedicated to blending all of the excitement of a gourmet specialties boutique with all of the freshness, value and everyday products you’d expect from us as your trusted local grocer.

Brian Moore, Director of Merchandising at Sysco, Indianapolis. Sysco is the global leader in selling, marketing and distributing food and non-food products to restaurants, healthcare, and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers around the world.

Help Sell Your Food Product: Sample, Sample, Sample

Question: What would be the most important factors to ensure the product would sell if a large foodservice company or retail store carries my product line?

Eric Wine: Be prepared to sample it, be ready to ensure that the packaging meets the expectation for the category it lives in or exceeds the expectation of the category it lives in. Do your best, but do your homework. Know what in stock means for a grocer to have a consistent product available for the customer to see and try. That’s it. Get consistent. Get a good working relationship with the stores that you’re introducing your product into, and be prepared to be there and let people try and taste the product.

Bob Baesler: Well, Eric said it, and there’s no question. There’s three most important factors, and that’s sampling, sampling, sampling.

Audience member: Everybody’s talking about sampling, sampling, sampling. How frequently would you like to see those samples done at a store?

Rick Hopkins: Its’ relative to the product. It’s relative to the time of year. It’s relative to the seasonality of whatever the product may be. If this is a barbecue sauce that could be served 12 months out of the year, then it’s the proper rotation for maybe what’s going on in the meat market, and support some of those things.

There is too much of one product at one time. I don’t know a consistent answer as to how much is too much, but again, if you know the stores you’re working with, you know the product category that you’re competing in, there will become a natural pace for how often to be there. If I were to tell somebody, in our world, a minimum of three to four times a year would be the expectation, then we see some of our great vendors once a month. That seems to work in our world.

Eric Wine: Yeah. Season as well, so we’re coming up on the holidays. Anything holiday related is a perfect time to sample. Different companies have different requirements for sampling in their stores, but as he said, three or four times a year, pretty consistent.

Moderator: Just building on what the audience member was talking about — the idea that some of you have multiple stores. Saying that to a one or two person operator might be more challenging to get around. Do you work with them in any way? Do you have a demo operator?

Eric Wine: I know for Fresh Time we have a sampling company we go through, that involves marketing. Things like grand openings, we just opened the store in Bloomington, Indiana. We had some great, local Bloomington vendors there for the grand opening. Sold a ton of product, so things at grand openings. We have customer appreciation days every month or so. Those are great times to come out and sample your product. Again, to their point, do your research a little bit. Know what’s going on that particular market. Any great sales they have going on, that’s a great time to come and sample your stuff.

Rick Hopkins: I think sampling is important. Is it the key? I’m not so sure about that. I’ve seen product fly off the shelf when there’s been no sampling to support it. I think the thing with sampling, it separates you from other people. Should you choose to take that route. Sampling sometimes, you just … I can’t speak for these guys, but in my mind, you would build that price or that cost into your product. Then we would take a look at it from there. If that’s something that we want, somewhere, it has to be justified.

Help Sell Your Food Product: Coupons and Self-Promotion

Question: Outside sampling or demos how do you help in sales?

Rick Hopkins: One of the ways that I would say if we look at the real question. How do you help in sales? If that’s the question, how does the store help? It’s, gets excited about your product. Build that relationship. Know the attributes. Come in prepared, and a great way to introduce the new product is to have [inaudible 00:25:48] just get inspired by sales offerings. If it lives on an end cap, to begin with, tell a great story. Bring some people and support material, tell us about the farmer, tell us about the growers. Tell us about the people that made that product come to life. That’s a big part of it. Having a built-in margin that allows us to have some credible demo materials is excellent. If you’re out there doing a demo, even more powerful.

Again, as we said, nobody is more passionate about your product than typically you are. Be prepared to come and invest the time that it takes to get those first couple bites into people’s mouths, help them understand how that product really can be enjoyed.

Moderator:  So they could do some promotion to invite trial like a reduced price or coupon. Should bring that to you?

Rick Hopkins: That does work at our store. That is a fairly standard approach to helping sell a newer product that lives at the higher end of the price point and the distribution to all the conventional grocers out there. It gives us a chance to have a little bit of introductory time for it.

Bob Baesler: Actually, a tremendous idea that we came up with. We have, as most stores have, retail stores have their store app.

On that, there’s coupons, manufacturer’s coupons. Typically, they’re major manufacturer’s coupons. She’s able to put a coupon on there for whether it’s 25 cents off, a dollar off, 50 cents off, and we can do that for local companies, as well. The difference would be the major manufacturer would honor those coupons and give us the money back. We wouldn’t necessarily expect that from the local. Just the fact that we would have it up there, because when they look at some of the other apps, they would not see any local items on that, like a coupon. As I say, that’s a phenomenal idea that we’re going to implement.

Eric Wine: I’ll kind of get on the bandwagon just a little bit. Temporary price reductions, for a week or a two-week promotion, that’s a big thing for us. Particularly with local SKUs. Sharing it on social media puts your company out there. Hey, we’re in this store, in Fresh Time. We’re in Baesler’s, whatever it may be.

Promote yourself, as well. I work with our vendors all the time on price reductions for a week or two weeks. To get a little more pop, and get more people to try their product.

Question: What would it take to become a vendor for a broad line foodservice company or multi-store retailer?

Eric Wine: Well, for us, there are a few things that need to be done. There are some things that we do ask. Food safety is a huge piece this day and age. There is an agreement we need, it’s called a Hold Harmless agreement, making sure that our product is going to be served, or we’re going to sell this product, someone else is going to help this product and make sure that that agreement is done.

There is also insurance needs that need to be met, too. There’s some technical stuff that has to be done. I’m not going to lie about that, but we want to let people know that upfront. When I discuss with the new vendor, we talk about that right from the get-go.

We understand all the little things that have to go into becoming a vendor. I believe that’s why this question was asked. Mainly, if it’s a chain with locations in multiple states, then you’re talking about the actual distribution of it.

Rick Hopkins: To piggyback on what he was saying, there’s a lot of upfront things of that nature that have to be met first, as far as going into multiple states, multiple locations. What is an excellent example of a very painful process that anybody goes through to get set up with us? Being the Market District here in Indy, part of Giant Eagle, our parent company, it is a long, torturous process to be set up as a new vendor especially if you’re going to be the distributor to that product, too. Be prepared. There’s an expense that’s attached, and there’s time for processing and setup that are connected with that, to have the ability to have a source of moving product quickly, and almost immediately, is usually to partner with an already established distributor that may be a part of our organization that’s already set up.

Until you’re at a point where you’re ready. Until you’ve spent the money, that you’ve done the math and looked at what that type of time and investment really can be the reward for. That’s the nature of how it works in a large company like ours.

This is the 3rd in our series of “Food Buyer’s Roundtable” posts. The Food Buyer’s Roundtable continues in our next post: Food Buyer’s Roundtable Q&A #4: Local Food in Big Stores

We Need to Say this…

We said this several times through this series and our first three workshop Q&A series (Social Media Marketing, Vetting a Co-Packer, and Financing for Growth):

Do you want to talk about something in this post or have questions about preparing for a food buyer meeting? Contact me at

And, as always, Keep Moving Your Brand Up the Food Chain!

Patrick Nycz
Founding President