Getting your food product in the grocery store

Learn how to prepare for and approach a retailer to carry your food product in their store.

A common misconception by new food manufacturers is that a food distributor will find retail outlets for their food product and all they need to do is to produce the product, hand it off to the distributor and wait for the money to roll in. The truth of the matter is that a distributor only gets your food product from point A to point B with the rest being totally up to you. A distributor is not the marketing solution for a new manufacturer; it is a logistics solution.

In order to find and keep a retail outlet for your product, your product needs a face behind it. It is up to you as the owner to sell your product to the store buyers or owners, take care of your product while it is on the shelf and market the product within the store.  

To ensure your product is ready, be sure that you have attractive label and durable packaging.  Also have a back-up plan, in case your volume of orders exceeds your production capacity.  This is when a co-packer comes into play.

Before you approach the store buyer, create a product sheet that helps you tell your story. A product sheet should have an attractive 4-color glossy picture of your product(s) on one front and provide the business background, ingredients and nutrition facts on the back. On a separate handout called a pricing sheet, provide the case quantity, pricing per case, and contact information for ordering the product. Although a manufacturer is exempt from the requirement of a nutrition label until they sell over 100,000 units of one product in a year, a retailer can require that products have a nutrition label before being sold in their store. In addition, the average consumer looks for the nutrition label to see how much fat, sodium and calories there are in a serving.

If you are planning to approach Whole Foods or another natural food store, be sure to check into the store’s ingredients standards to determine if your product meets their standards either before you finalize your product’s recipe or before you make the appointment with their buyer.

When you believe you are ready, make an appointment with the store buyer and be prepared to pitch your product in 3-5 minutes, provide samples, and hand them your company product sheet and pricing sheet. Once the buyer approves your product for their store and you agree to the sale, you can expect a 30-60 day pay policy for their order. It will be up to you and the buyer to negotiate sale price promotions and demonstration details. See the Michigan State University Extension article, Marketing your food product in the grocery store, for more information on what to do next.

Remember, a distributor is a delivery solution, not your marketing arm. It is beneficial to have a proven sales record in ten to fifteen stores before approaching a distributor to deliver your product.

The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides business counseling for product development and marketing strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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