Pitch Perfect: How to Get Your Product on Supermarket Shelves

Sep 17, 2019

A supermarket contract can be the Holy Grail for many health-focused SMEs, not only because it leads to increased sales in the short term but also because it can help legitimise a product or brand in the eyes of mainstream consumers over the long term.

However, “getting on shelf’” is a highly competitive process, according to Jessica Gordoun, commercial category manager for special projects at Coles. Gordoun oversees the buying for Coles Local, a new series of small-format stores that stock a higher percentage of premium and health foods than regular Coles supermarkets. She receives hundreds of product pitches each month and only accepts a handful.

Here, Gordoun shares five key pieces of advice for SMEs hoping to crack the supermarket code.

Jessica Maree Gordoun – Commercial Category Manager for Special Projects, Coles Local

1. Observe etiquette when pitching

Because buyers receive such a large volume of pitches, they are constantly looking for ways to thin the pile. That makes them quick to reject anything that isn’t presented appropriately.

Gordoun says SMEs should send their pitches via email rather than through the post. “If people don’t have my address, they can contact me via LinkedIn,” she says.

Importantly, she advises companies not to send product samples in the first instance. Doing so can damage your chances because it shows you lack an understanding of the pitching process.

Gordoun says the ideal pitch is no more than five pages long. “It should effectively explain your product, the point of difference and the gap in the market it’s trying to fill, and then detail the commercials.”

She adds: “From there, if I’m interested, I’ll request samples be sent to the Coles head office. I’ll then review the samples in line with the commercials and, if I’m interested, I’ll request a catch-up via phone or face to face.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of the market

Gordoun says many health-focused SMEs that contact her do themselves a disservice by not taking a broad enough view of the market into which they’re trying to sell. She advises companies to not only explain where their product fits within the health-food space but also to explain its place within the entire supermarket.

“For example, if you are pitching a low-calorie, all-natural soft drink, then you don’t just compare yourself against other low-calorie, all-natural soft drinks – you compare yourself against soft drinks total. You include the big players, and you say where their price positioning is, where your price positioning is, and the kind of customers that would cross over to your product. Are you trading people out of conventional soft drinks into your product? Or are you bringing people who never shop the soft drink aisle to the aisle, which is what we call incrementality?”

3. Explain your distribution methods

Gordoun says small suppliers often struggle with DIFOT (Delivery In Full On Time) when they start selling into supermarkets. “Not many suppliers are aware of the supply chain complexity that you’d move to in a big retail environment,” she says.

Be sure to develop a distribution strategy beforehand and explain it in your pitch, so buyers feel confident you will fulfil DIFOT. Gordoun says some SMEs develop their own supply-chain infrastructure while others hire a contractor – both approaches can work well.

4. Present a marketing plan

Buyers want to know what sorts of activities you will undertake to help your product succeed on their shelves. Gordoun stresses that the onus is on the SME, not the supermarket.

She says sampling remains the most effective way to convince consumers to trial a new product. “We see 150 per cent to 300 per cent uplift in sales in a week when sampling occurs,” she notes.

Discounting should also be part of your marketing strategy. “Just having a yellow ticket really increases awareness of the brand and encourages trial,” Gordoun says. “It doesn’t need to be a huge discount.”

It helps if you also mention social media promotion in your pitch, she adds.

5. Be clear and transparent

Making bold claims about your products or brand might seem like a good way to get attention, but Gordoun says it can backfire if you don’t substantiate what you’re saying with data or evidence. When crafting your pitch, try not to oversell your product and remember that honesty is always the best policy.

This advice also applies to the product itself. Gordoun says consumers are becoming savvier about products that make unsubstantiated claims about their origin or health value, and supermarket buyers are following their lead. “For example, there are many brands that call their product ‘organic’ but have no ACO [Australian Certified Organic] certification,” she says. “Or some brands use a word like ‘natural’ but have 25 ingredients listed on the back, and some of them have numbers next to them. More and more, these are products we will avoid.”

Jessica was a speaker at the Naturally Good Business Summit in 2019. The summit is dedicated to brands, manufacturers and distributors in the industry to help grow and transform their business. Click here to find out more about the Business Summit. 

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