How to Pitch to Retailers

Written in

January 5, 2023

Getting that first major retail listing is a moment many food start-ups dream of. But how exactly do you win a place on the supermarket shelf?

Getting that first major retail listing is a moment many food start-ups dream of. But how exactly do you win a place on the supermarket shelf?

We invited Mission Kitchen mentor, friend and all around food business expert, Karen Green to share some her wisdom and uncover some of the secrets in the dark art that is pitching to retailers.

Here are a few of the key lessons our members learnt from her fantastic workshop:

Pitching to retailers is a process that can be YEARS long.

It’s like the Olympics: you spend all that time training, then you need to perform in just a few moments.

If you are a fledgling food business, pitching to retailers involves 5 distinct phases of activity although it isn’t necessarily a linear process:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Preparing
  3. Nurturing
  4. The pitch itself (can be a short elevator style one, or a longer formal one),
  5. Closing

Here is a summary of each of those segments...

PROSPECTING: How to I start the process and find my potential route to market?

  • Map out where you want to be selling in 3-5 year time, to work out your route to market. It is better to walk before you run and testing the market with smaller stores and wholesalers will give you insights into the bigger retailers. Sometimes starting with a national grocer can put you at a disadvantage as the independents and smaller chains will no longer want to work with you
  • Define who your target customer is and where they shop. Know who is right for you and where to place your energy.
  • Do credit checks. Even the companies you think are financially sound may not be, especially in this climate.

PREPARING: I know which shops I’d like to be stocked in. How do I write a killer email to a buyer that has the best chance of being noticed?

  • Firstly, try to understand the person whom you are writing to. One size does not fit all. Buyers have different personalities: they might be a detail orientated person who needs loads of info, a get-to-the-point person who cannot be bothered to read loads of info, and a people person, who actually wants to build a relationship with you
  • If you don’t know the buyer personally, cover all three bases in your email. Start with a short friendly intro, include the main points with an image, and include a link to more detail.
  • Cold emailing can be exhausting. Being ghosted is hard - take a break when you’re fed up.

But what improves the chances of a response from buyers most?

If they already know who you are… bringing us onto NURTURING:

  • Research shows that Buyers are more likely to take action if they’ve seen you a minimum of 7 times before you get in touch. This could be you popping up on LinkedIn, Social Media, Exhibitions, Press/PR, Referral, Speaking, Panel Discussions, on TV, in magazines, or winning awards.
  • All of this is activity is profile-raising for yourself and your business. It is all about increasing social proof that you are a business worth noticing and engaging with.
  • And once you’re in a shop, buyers want to be reassured that you are going to shift stock by having a good following and marketing plan
  • And on the flip side, buyers also want to be reassured that you can meet demand with product availability so you need to be retailer ready

PITCHING: can be informal, like what you say to someone at a networking event or exhibition, or when chatting to smaller speciality stores:

  • What can you do to nail your elevator pitch?
  • Different things matter to different people, so write down 10-15 things which are interesting about your product and your business story.
  • Have this in the back of your mind when talking to people about your business. It’s a conversation, so ask questions and listen to the other person. Tailor your pitch based on information you can garner from the conversation, and make it relevant to the person.

Pitching can also be formal - what do you do if you’ve been invited to pitch to a more established retailer?

  • Prepare a simple 6-slide pitch template. This is good discipline to make and review, even if you don’t have a pitch date in the diary or want to use it on the day itself
  • Remember this first pitch is to get interest, it is not to agree a listing on the day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – no one can know everything about every customer
  • A very useful phrase is “I’ll come back to you” when faced with a question you just don’t know the answer to. Never lie, or fudge things.
  • Remember, it is the buyer’s aim to get the best possible price for your product, and they will be tough on you. Up to that point, you’ll have probably been told by everyone how amazing your product is. But the buyer will pick holes in what’s wrong with it, so be prepared – they are not being nasty they are just doing their job

CLOSING: it is very exciting when a buyer loves your product range and you are within a whisker of making a deal. Be careful to negotiate the best you can whether that is price, settlement terms or distribution...

  • Know your walk away numbers and be prepared to do just that walk away – the margin is NEVER going to go up only down so make sure it makes money
  • Make sure you know all the costs of doing business – how many distribution points, how often do they want deliveries and what is the marketing budget – all these have an impact on price
  • Have a launch plan agreed with the retailer to make sure you hit the ground running.
  • And remember it is the first two weeks of a launch that is critical so make sure you have enough stock, check the stores and maximise the launch marketing

Interested in joining our next event? See our upcoming workshops, Q&As and socials by clicking here.