7 Reasons Why a Store Might Not Sell the Foods and Drinks You Love

The Food or Beverage is Really Cool - But Won't Fit on the Store Shelf

Iconic Coca-Cola bottles lined up
The most famous bottle design ever - the Coke bottle - resulted from a nationwide design competition. Utahca on Flickr

A package or bottle can look amazing but if there's no easy to way to display it, food stores may say "Nope!" 

Newbie food crafters and distillers might come up with a clever, incredibly beautiful or cheap package that stands out from the rest of the products on the market and works perfectly at a farmer's market stand or in a specialty store.

Only at a grocery store like Whole Foods Market, which has standard shelf sizes, they might find the package is too tall, too wide, doesn't show the label on the shelf, or can't be stacked. The buyer can't buy it. The maker might not have money to do a re-do. (This is why you might find really great food brands at a bargain grocery store.)

The solution is to test packaging and get feedback before finalizing it. 

The Food Brand Just Can't Produce Enough

pickled vegetables
Pickled veges. Susie Wyshak

There's a reason the expression "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" has stayed alive. It's sound, time-honored advice.

Food brands often depend on co-packers, or contract manufacturers, to make their food — especially the type of private label, house brands you find at a Trader Joe's or other grocery stores.

Those co-packers can be hard to find and need to have a good business to stay in business. For example, When a big account went away from a Michigan pickle co-packer, fewer pickle orders meant laying off 100 or the company's 175 employees.

Some small food crafters focused on using local produce might not be able to get their hands on enough of the natural ingredients that made their brand popular. 

Even if stores want to sell their foods, they just can't produce enough.

The Prices are Too Low For Everyone

chocolate covered fresh strawberries
Getting food pricing right is the toughest most important part of food business success. Susie Wyshak

Bargain-priced food is a thrill to find, but at some point the maker and sellers need to make a profit.

The most common problem food entrepreneurs who are new to the food business world face is pricing their products wrong. Then, they can't make enough money to stay in business. (That's a huge topic in my book Good Food, Great Business.)

With 41% of Generation Z and 32% of Millennial consumers very willing to pay a premium for sustainably sourced ingredients, successful specialty food producers are also going to pay a premium when purchasing those ingredients.

Good food can be really affordable when you're buying direct from a small maker or if they are producing food at home. The price needs to rise a lot more (at least 50%) when a brand — of any types of products really — sell  through a distributor, which warehouses and delivers products and then through retail stores.

Something On the Label Stops Wholesale Buyers From Buying

Runa Guayusa Clean Energy Drink in cans
Runa Guayusa Clean Energy Drink at the Fancy Food Show. Susie Wyshak

The food industry has the strangest stories.

An energy drink maker told me that they weren't allowed to be distributed and sell in to some of the most popular convenience stores. Why?

Their bottles and cans had the word "energy" on them. Another more powerful, large energy drink brand had said they would not allow other brands using that word to compete with them. They won.

The small producer planned to take the word energy off of their bottles...even though their drink really was energizing.

Not every product is right for every store. Sometimes retail buyers think a food, or other product, won't appeal to their customers. They can't afford to take a risk. If a brand can sell on consignment — where they get paid if the product sells — that can take away this risk. For the most part, big stores can't handle little deals like this though.

Proving a brand has a following by starting with direct sales to consumers or online food sales is a big help!

The Shelf Life is Not Long Enough

Flavored natural cottage cheeses
Flavored cottage cheeses at Expo West 2015. Susie Wyshak

If a food has a short shelf life, as produce does, a brand needs to have a loyal customer following who's going to keep food selling, or turning over.

Stores may have some flexibility to change where they display or promote a food with short shelf life. The maker needs to also promote the food so the store will keep selling it. 

It's not good for anyone's business to have to destroy or give away food that isn't selling — although on the bright side, some people are turning expiring food into new healthy food businesses.

The Store Runs Out of the Food and Forgets It Ever Existed

Out of sight, out of mind!

Especially if a store tests out new products on displays outside of the usual shelves and categories, a buyer or stocker may simply forget or not have time to re-order if the products sell out. 

While new food companies need to be successful making their first calls to supermarkets, following up is equally as important. Sort of like following up on a job application or staying in touch with friends.

The biggest reasons why you might not find foods you love on store shelves

  • They didn't sell well.
  • The spot got filled by another brand. While absence may make the consumer's heart grow fonder, for a grocery store buyer it may be out of sight out of mind — for good! 

If you or someone you know is building a new food brand, it's critical to know the keys to success if the plan is to sell through retail stores.

The stories and tips in Good Food, Great Business will help new food brands avoid these pitfalls and be set up for success.

The Brand is Just Not Hot and Popular Enough Anymore

hatch pepper chocolate chip cookies
Hatch Pepper Chocolate Chip Cookies by Salem Baking. Susie Wyshak

It's hard to become a classic, why is why foods always keep innovating.

Have you noticed that the most popular, classic cracker brands are constantly coming out with new flavors — spicy, extra cheesy, tomato basil? And ice cream brands add seasonal flavors, despite that in reality chocolate and vanilla are their top sellers?

That's because limited edition and limited time flavors and products keep food shoppers coming in — especially adventurous Millennial eaters — which is critical for retail stores to be successful and profitable.

If you're a Trader Joe's fan, you get it. They have about 60% of staple products, maybe 20% seasonal and 20% new. The new ones may go away, for whatever reason, but they sure got you to come in and check out and try what's new!

The food retailers we love the most are always experimentingAs a consumer, be sure to tell the store manager what you want them to sell!