Discussion at the Food For Thought workshop at Dartington Hall was lively and informative as the business people who came along shared their frustrations and challenges and, more importantly, their tips for successfully growing a food business.
The businesses in the room ranged from not-quite-started-up-yet to firmly established and kitchen based micro businesses to SMEs in their own factories. What all these businesses had in common was the desire to grow sustainably and profitably.
We were lucky enough to have a presentation from Victoria Townsend, head of retail innovation at Bidfresh. In that role and others Victoria has spent the last 5 years building relationships with major retailers to sell products for SME food businesses.
She shared valuable advice on establishing initial contacts with retail buyers and successfully developing business relationships with them, but most importantly her advice had perspective from her background of having founded her own food brand – biscuit recipe kits which she successfully pitched to Selfridges, Amazon and a host of other retailers before eventually selling the brand on.
One of the overriding problems that the businesses present reported was trouble getting through to the right decision maker at a prospective retailer. Victoria recognised that as a familiar issue and shared several ideas to make the approach more successful, chiefly remembering that your target is busy so getting through to them takes (polite) perseverance. Interesting tips about the timing of emails and quirky ways to approach buyers were appreciated by the audience.
When it came to the face to face meeting the definite consensus between Victoria and Barbara King was that excellent preparation was a basic requirement. Comprehensive product information should be sent to the buyer in advance and then product and packaging samples should be taken on the day.
Where you could really make a difference was in the follow up to that meeting: sending any additional information promptly and completing any agreed actions by the agreed deadline. It was always worthwhile completing any training that was available on the retailer’s in house systems as they all differed by they were key to smoothly launching products.
Growing sales with products which have already listed with retailers both large and small involved keeping in regular contact with buyers. Victoria suggested making contact monthly to review sales and keep up to date with the retailer’s plans for growing their own sales. Having contact details for both the buyer and the administrator so that when staff change there is a backup contact to maintain continuity.
Conversation ranged across all sorts of related topics, but one interesting point was the suggestion of “white labelling” products for a retailer, either on a small scale in local shops or working with major retailers on own label products. Victoria stressed the value of being able to do this in order to allow efficiencies in ordering and production runs, but once again this required planning and an understanding of profit margins in order to make the right decisions.
In summary the key strategy for success was to find ways to make buying from you easy for the retailer, and aim to understand their strategy as well as explaining your own.
2019 will see additional Food For Thought workshops around Devon. Find out more here