So, you’ve got an amazing product to bring to the food market. Maybe it’s good enough to rival the best known brands, or it’s a new and innovative idea that will set consumers pulses racing!
Now, you just need to promote your product and tempt one of the big four supermarkets into stocking it.
But, hold on a minute. There are steps you need to take before your idea ever leaves your kitchen.
If you follow the 10 steps below you’ll be ready to go in no time, and demonstrate to supermarket buyers that you’re professional and reliable by having everything prepared before your sales pitch.
1. Make sure you have all the relevant hygiene, food safety and Environmental Health Department certificates.
Good food hygiene is important if you want to stay within the law, reduce the risk of food poisoning among your customers, and protect your business’ reputation. When it comes to food hygiene, keep the 4 Cs in mind: cross-contamination, cleaning, chilling, and cooking.
In the UK you must have a plan for food safety based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles. For this plan you will need to identify any hazards that must be avoided, removed or reduced; and where you will encounter them (the critical control points).
Bonus tip: It’s also worth looking at food assurance schemes, like the Red Tractor logo. While these schemes are voluntary, many food businesses make certification with these schemes a specific requirement. Even if you are not producing the ingredients yourself, you should ensure that your suppliers are signed up to the relevant assurance schemes.
2. Detailed market research is essential.
When making your pitch supermarket buyers will expect you to have detailed knowledge of your product and target market.
You need to understand every ingredient and cooking technique in your product. Does it add flavour? Is it there for texture? What are the health benefits?
Supermarkets want to know that your product will sell at a price that is profitable for them. But it’s down to you to carry out the market research to show it. Here are some questions you should consider for your market research:
- What did you think about the product? (taste, texture, packaging)
- Would you pay £x for this product?
- How often would you purchase this product?
Bonus tip: Make sure you ask about demographic details. This will help the supermarket think about how they can sell your product. ‘Millennials’ is not a market segment – there are 14 million millennials in the UK. But maybe your product is aimed at health-conscious professionals in their 30s, who do not have enough free time to cook each night.
3. Products that are regionally identifiable are big business right now.
Providing provenance for your ingredients and manufacturing location may help to make your product stand out to customers.
British beef. Gloucestershire cheese. Melton Mowbray pork pies.
Regionally-identified food has always been a big seller in supermarkets. It has long been a way of differentiating your products from the competition – and customers now expect a certain quality standard when a product comes from a particular location.
What is new is a booming market for locally-sourced produce. A new group of customers who are environmentally-concerned about the food they consume look to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing what are known as ‘food miles’ – the distance your ingredients have to travel from the farm to the plate.
4. When producing in bulk make sure your product looks and tastes as good as it did when you made it yourself.
Use the same quality ingredients and keep tasting to ensure the best quality control.
Supermarkets want to make sure that your 568th product is the same quality as the 1st. After all, they will be the ones handling any refunds, which they want to avoid. Make sure you can scale up without reducing the quality by buying ingredients in bulk.
Bonus tip: A good way to ensure your product packaging remains consistent is to use a machine to do the job. You can buy or rent shrink wrapping machines that will save you a lot of time and produce a high quality finish every time.
5. There are companies who are experts in selling to supermarkets. Their knowledge and guidance is indispensable.
If you’re serious and believe in your product you can’t afford not to use them.
I know, you’ve already invested in the product. It sells itself, right?
No product will ever sell itself. I’m sorry to say this, but yours is no different. By working with specialists you gain their contacts in the industry, helping to get your foot in the door. They also know what supermarkets are looking for, and the type of information they need. This means you can prepare this upfront, hopefully reducing the amount of time you spend revising your product, packaging and pricing.
6. Know your exact costings and profit margins as these will be crucial in keeping your business viable.
Remember, supermarkets will take a cut of your end sale price and expect an offer or price reduction when you launch your product.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve reinvented sliced bread or developed a futuristic soup; if it’s not profitable for the supermarket, they won’t stock it.
Be prepared. Work out what discounts you can offer in exchange for a larger order.
7. Supermarkets need to know that you have the infrastructure to cope with large orders.
If you are still in a home kitchen they’re not going to be interested. So, make sure you are in a commercial kitchen with all hygiene and safety certification in place.
Remember your 4 C’s? When you scale up, it’s a lot easier to keep work surfaces and utensils clean if you are in a space designed especially for commercial food preparation. Granite worktops below on TV cookery shows, it’s all about easy-to-clean stainless steel.
Bonus tip: if you are sharing your kitchen with another company, make sure there’s no cross-contamination between your raw ingredients and finished produce.
8. How you package your product and the designs you use are as important as the product itself.
Supermarkets need packaging to be eye-catching, informative to encourage customers to pick it up and buy it. You may need to go away several times to redesign before a supermarket is happy to place an order.
How you package your food can be the difference between a successful product or a not. It’s important that your packaging is high quality and consistent with the supermarket’s requirements. Most food production companies use wrapping machines like the ones in the image to the below.
There is information that you must include on your packaging. For example, use by or best before dates, ingredients list, and allergens.
Bonus tip: take your packaging to a focus group of your target audience (remember them from Step 2?). They’ll be able to tell you whether it appeals to them or not, and help guide you in the right direction.
9. Consider how you are going to deliver your product to the retailer.
Remember, most supermarkets use large distribution depots that may be a considerable distance from your premises.
Do you need to keep your product cool and dry? Or frozen? Your logistics options will vary depending on the nature of your product. Depending on your product, you may need to purchase or hire a cool box or refrigerated van to keep your product fresh for the journey.
Bonus tip: time spent delivering your product is only going to shorten the shelf life. If you have a freshly made product, keep the delivery times as short as possible to give the supermarkets long enough to sell it before it goes off.
10. Some of the supermarkets are now encouraging new suppliers to contact them direct.
Sainsbury’s ‘Becoming a supplier’ and Waitrose ‘Locally Produced Initiative’ are just two examples. But remember, unless you have done all your homework and your product is of the highest quality they won’t be interested.