How to Make Your First Sales Calls to Supermarkets

3 Steps in a Sales Pitch + Winning Packaging = Cold Cash!

Sales clerk giving meat to a man in a supermarket
Glow Images, Inc / Getty Images

This is a continuation of my article on how innovation plays in the food business and tips from a successful food entrepreneur , Doug Foreman of Beanitos. I have been asking how does he innovate and get those innovative products out of the test kitchen and onto the grocery shelves. It is looking at food trends and being different enough to wow toe retail buyer to give you shelf space in the supermarket.

Doug is the guy to listen to, starting the Guiltless Gourmet, a line of low-fat, baked tortilla chips, that started with $200 out of his pocket and created an entire snack category over $500 Million and then making a nice profit for himself when he sold the brand to Barq's Root Beer in 1994.

Doug made Beanitos Bean Chips (according to SPINS, Nielsen Data) the #1 Growth Brand of Natural Chips in the U.S in a huge $2.7 billion category. Let's listen to his advice… he knows what he is doing… evidenced by a whopping 203.5% in the past 52 weeks.

Cold Calls & Cold Cash

Here are 3 steps Doug has used to make your first sales pitch to the retail buyer.

Take it to the back door of the store… well not literally even though Doug did this with his first Whole Foods stores. So go to independent stores first, you need to find the locally owned stores, speak to the owner directly and get feedback.

Work your way up.

Monitor step 1 and slowly stair-step your way up. Don't shoot for hockey stick sales growth. Stair-stepping allows you to make subtle changes to the item as you go. And from my 35 years experience, you WILL make changes.

When you are comfortable with step 2, you now have a track record you can point to.

So find safe chains like a Whole Foods or coops like Wakefern Foods that are more likely to give smaller brands some valuable shelf space.

How to Go from Your Kitchen to Krogers - Large-scale Food Production Tips from a CEO That's Done It 

Your kitchen is your "test kitchen. So you can easily make small batches for your friends successfully but that's not enough. You need to then scale up your recipes, understand Good Manufacturing Practices outlined by the FDA, test for shelf stability and safety. Doug says "You have to make sure the product you make today tastes great in 6 months or more in order to have enough shelf life to withstand the entire supply chain".

How Do You Test Your New Food Product?

Doug starts with a simple process "Start by opening your notebook and document everything you do with creating your product. You product WILL evolve over time and you need to capture every change and observation here. By clearly documenting all of your work, you are ready to successfully take the next step and scale up. This is particularly important if you are considering a copacker to produce your brand".

A Picture is Worth…. Actually Millions -- Packaging

Doug had great tips on developing successful packaging.

At the end of the day a consumer has to literally pick your product off the shelf to make a sale, so decide on what will make you stand out on the shelf. According to Doug "We go into a store and take a picture of the category, put it into our computer and see how we would look in the sections against our competition." This is a lot less expensive than creating packaging, spending thousands of dollars and only to find out the packaging does not jump off of the shelf! Doug mentioned there are companies on the internet that can help you with this, but in my opinion, I like his idea better. It is cheap, gets you visually familiar with the retail environment you will be in and will allow you to pitch the retail buyer with a lot more confidence.

Doug gave a great example from a Salsa they were making at Guiltless Gourmet "With Guiltless Gourmet, we were launching a new salsa and we had national, award-winning ad agency designing the label.

They came to us with a black-and-white label which they said was "very cutting edge", well we felt it was well... a little anemic looking. So we tested it on the shelf at the store. When we all stepped back looked, this cutting edge label amounted to a little patch of gray -- really easy to walk by. Needless to say, I'm a believer in testing on the shelf, at the store."

Takeaways for Small Food Businesses

Start with an Innovative Food Product

If you are the 10th…whatever product on the shelf, don't waste your money and time since you most likely will not get shelf space. Go back and find something else to sell that is different. Top Food Trends to Watch

Know the Market Need and Your Brand Differentiators

Walk through the supermarket aisles and focus on categories you like or know well. Are there products that are missing that you can make to solve meal preparation problems or make snacking easier. 5 Steps to Product Positioning

Start Small by Pitching Your Products at the Back Door and Working Your Way up to Major Chains

Small Cold Calls will lead to BIG Cold Cash. Follow Doug,s advice to start small and ladder your way up to making sales presentations to the bigger guys like Whole Foods.

Packaging is Worth Millions

Determine what will make you stand out on the shelf. Test before you leap. Don't spend thousands of dollars on packaging just because a few friends and family gave you their opinions. 5 Tips for Designing Great Packaging Packaging 101 from the Experts.