The players in the food business game: Part 3

Knowing who does what is important to getting your food product on the shelf.

Part 1 and part 2 of this Michigan State University Extension series described the initial “players” who might be involved in bringing a new food product to market. Part 3 picks up after your new product has been developed, licensed, and you’ve successfully found a way to produce it and distribute it while still making a profit. Here are two more players in this arena that you need to become familiar with!

Brokers are sales representatives who represent many brands. A good broker becomes an extension of your sales team, and will help you get into the stores you want. They can also assure that your product has the best possible placement on the shelf, and can coordinate promotions as well. Really good brokers have excellent relationships with retailers and can guide your strategy for dealing with them. Brokers will usually either charge a manufacturer a flat rate or a commission to cover their costs. Though many brands coordinate sales themselves and choose not to use brokers, a good broker network can really help the small brands expand their footprint.

The final link in getting your food product to market is, of course, the retailer. Every retailer has people who makes the decision on whether to accept a new product for their shelves. For independent retailers, this can be the store manager or owner, whereas larger chains have entire buying teams in place (often someone for each category of foods) to help manage all of the requests. Larger retailers also have stockers, merchandisers and marketers who you might get to know in time. Getting to know the buyer is the most important initially, as they have the power over whether your product gets on the shelf. Knowing the stocker can also pay dividends in terms of how close to eye level your product gets placed.

There are certainly more people you will discover in your journey to bring a new food product to market. Some of the roles you can play yourself (like demonstrating your product and giving samples) or your retailer may have someone they hire to play that role. A very important person who can help you along the way is your MSU Proudct Center innovation counselor. They are located around the state of Michigan, and can guide you in this process and advise you at every step along the way. They provide free one-on-one coaching at a location near you. Visit their website below and click on “Counseling Request” to sign up for assistance.

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

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