Your Questions Answered: Q&A 1st Round of the Food Buyer’s Roundtable: Scoring a Buyer Meeting
Welcome to the first installment of the last in our NewPoint Emerging Food Brands Conference workshop Q&A series. We kicked everything off with Social Media Marketing, attacked Vetting a Co-Packer, and followed that up with a Financing for Growth roundtable and workshop. Now we dive into 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!
Let’s introduce our 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.
Scoring a Buyer Meeting
Question (two parts): What prompts you to accept a meeting with a possible new supplier?
Best way to contact to get a meeting (without being too pushy)?
Rick Hopkins: I would say we have a pretty good track record for getting to see a lot of folks. Indiana Growing has been an excellent catalyst for how we start a lot of those relationships, but professionally persistent is definitely one of the best ways.
Bring your product with you if it’s a show and tell the type of experience: something that can be tasted, something that can be described. If it’s a planned meeting, that’s easier to schedule have our undivided attention. Sometimes a “drop-in” works. If it doesn’t, just be professional. Be persistent. Follow up properly to come back in.
Bob Baesler: Being an independent store, it’s pretty easy to get ahold of Casey or myself. Suppliers, with a phone call or just stopping in, is very easy to make contact with us. I’m sure that’s the case with most small retailers.
Eric Wine: A lot of times with Fresh Time it’s word of mouth. What I mean by that is we have several stores in Central Indiana—Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Lafayette. Bring your product to one of our stores. Drop off the little sample or two to a grocery manager, or the store director. We all communicate together as a central team, and I always get those products back into my hands sooner or later. Network it through our stores. It eventually will end up in the right hands.
Tom Coleman: I would agree. Be a little persistent. Email’s work for me. Phone calls don’t necessarily work. Stopping in at a moment’s notice probably doesn’t work, either. When you send the email, talk a little bit about your product, and talk about ways that you feel it would benefit us. Maybe cite examples of other schools that you’re in, but the more we know about it up front, the better. If you don’t get a reply the next day from me, I’m not necessarily speaking in a personal sense, but don’t be afraid to send another email. Three or four emails, maybe not, but certainly I think you’ll hear back, at least from myself, over time.
Brian Moore: One other thing to add to what these folks have said: Do your homework. Find out what the company is about before you come in. That way, it will save you a little time. Especially on my side, food service being different than retail. Understand what we do, and what these folks do. I think that will help you a lot, so you know how to approach them with your product.
Your Brand New Product
Question: What gets you excited about a new product?
Brian Moore: In this day and age, innovation. If it’s innovative, that’s what we want to see. We don’t need to see another chicken tender; I can tell you that. Something innovative is key.
Rick Hopkins: I get excited about food. I try to taste almost anything that’s brought our way. The things that get us excited is really; local is a big part of the program. I would say for our store; I would argue that everybody would support that local is certainly one of the great attributes.
New and innovative. New and unique. A twist on an established product certainly works. The ability to know the story. When you can tell the story, when you know the attributes of the product, when you know how it connects to what is either a popular trend or an important experience that’s missing currently, that allows us really to have a great chance to tell the story, get more excited, play a little bit bigger with it, to get people ready to try it.
Bob Baesler: I believe unique items. Being a small store, we’re able to get items on the shelf quicker, a lot of times, than a chain. Even Fresh Time, although they’re very good about getting them on the shelf, we try to get ahead of them if we can. Very seldom do we, but that’s exciting. The packaging, of course, as you said with chicken tenders, in our world, it’s the barbecue sauces that we probably don’t need another barbecue sauce. We’ve got so many right now. Every one of them is very good.
Eric Wine: I agree with Bob. Packaging, the eye factor a lot. Does it pop out at you? Is it a product that we can sample for our customers? I will tell you, especially when it comes to local items, if you sample it, the customers will buy it. Sampling, sampling, sampling. If you come to me and, hey, we’re going to sample this. Here’s our plan. For me, that’s half the battle. That tells me that the chance of selling your local product is 50% better for us right from the get-go.
Tom Coleman: I would say probably accessibility. Sometimes there’s a lot of minutia between getting it to us from the manufacturer, to the distributor and our back door. Sometimes, the effort is somewhat overwhelming, regarding making that happen. I think from our standpoint anyway, we put it back into the manufacturer’s hand, and the distributor, and try to have them work those details out, as opposed to us giving those details.
It’s a big, big growing market for us, right now. We serve thousands of meals on a daily basis — just thousands. If you think, if you just don’t think about Purdue, you think about all the college and university markets out there. In my mind, I think it’s the direction that the young people are taking nowadays. We’re excited when we see those type of products, but we also understand that we have to be very seamless, regarding getting it to the market.
This is the 1st 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 #2: Food Industry Margins
We Need to Say this…
- Every brand and company is different: The experts here are addressing general questions from a wide variety of companies. Use their advice and guidelines as a starting point.
- This post is by no means all you need to know: There are a ton of great resources to draw advice on when trying to get that first food buyer meeting. The above are a few questions that food attendees asked for this food buyer’s roundtable. Here are a few more references for more intel:
Do you have some questions about contacting or preparing for a food buyer meeting – or just want to talk about something in this post? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, as always, Keep Moving Your Brand Up the Food Chain!