How to Get Your Food or Beverage Product onto Shelves


This month’s guest post is by Brianne Abramowicz, who has spent the last two years working as a Buyer for Target. She shares her advice for food entrepreneurs who are asking: “How can you get your food or beverage product onto shelves in mass retail?”

As a Buyer for Target, I’ve seen a lot of consumer packaged goods (CPG) pitches. They’ve run the spectrum from fantastic to terrible. While no two buyers have the same personality, some consistent themes have run through the most impressive pitches. With this in mind, I’d like to help you avoid some of the most common pitch pitfalls, frame your pitch for success, and help you to reach scale in retail more quickly.

Feel free to apply your own creative spin to your approach to pitching retail buyers, but consider the following three foundational tips when pulling together your retail pitch.

1. Put Your Buyer Hat On

The retail industry is in the midst of a seismic shift. The Amazon Effect is real. Understanding whether the Buyer you are speaking to is part of the industry disruption (i.e., e-commerce) or part of the industry being disrupted (traditional brick-and-mortar) should serve as a good baseline as to the appetite of a particular Buyer to add an innovative product to their assortment.

Think about it. Buyers, like you, are the CEOs of their business. Unlike you, they potentially have aggressive corporate sales growth goals that could be more (or less) attainable depending on general market dynamics.

E-Commerce versus Brick-and-Mortar Buyers

An e-commerce buyer who is (1) more focused on SKU growth and (2) isn’t tasked with profitability metrics could be much more willing to try an unproven product. A brick-and-mortar store buyer, on the other hand, will likely need to see proof of concept and impressive CAGRs (compound annual growth rates) to take a chance on your brand. If your product is super early in a trend curve, this type of buyer has to weigh the risk of lost sales opportunity with other more established brands.

This framework will obviously be affected by the level of innovation occurring within the category in which your company plays. For example, take plant-based milk and yogurt. Buyers of this category are constantly staying on top of new products in these arenas and applying a mix of art AND science to their assortment rationale. Otherwise, they may miss out on the next “new thing.” Commodity businesses like milk and cereal will have a harder time convincing buyers to take a risk on your product.

2. Understand How You Add Value to the Buyer’s Current Assortment

I have news for you. Buyers aren’t just looking for a hot product. They’re also evaluating your potential as a strategic partner. Will you help them grow their business over the medium and long-term?

Nothing demonstrates your partnership potential more than if you come to your meeting armed with observations and recommendations on how a Buyer can improve their existing business. I caution, however, that you must provide this input from an empathetic place. There’s a fine line between being the kind of vendor that comes across as strategic and one that comes across across as an agenda pusher.  

One way to avoid leaving a negative impression is to ensure that you walk into your meeting prepared to demonstrate the value you will bring to the buyer’s overall portfolio. If your business is super early stage and you don’t have a brand or category management team that can access secondary market research tools such as IRI and MINTEL to build a business case for you, there is still opportunity to provide strategic business recommendations.

Walk Their Current Assortment

Go to your local store. Search the retailer’s website. What’s missing from the assortment? What product segments are they emphasizing too much? What product can they stand to lean into more? Do you notice any display trends the buyer is overlooking? Aside from product, what about pricing, promotion, or placement levers?

Consider the whole marketing mix as up for grabs. Then, frame up how your product offering solves for some of the opportunity gaps within that mix and create room for a consultative conversation. This approach builds your credibility as a category expert and showcases thought partnership to the buyer.

Think About Your Competition

Do you want to go above and beyond? Don’t just bring your own product to your meeting. If you have direct competitors, do a side-by-side tasting of your product versus the competition. Highlight the differences and your points of differentiation. Is it margin, packaging, or other forms of product differentiation/quality?

Be careful, though, to not overwhelm a Buyer with product through a full line review. Focus your energy and their attention on the biggest opportunities for forging a relationship. Otherwise, you run the risk of information overload. Besides, you’ll likely be limited to 30-60 minutes with them. You’ve got to focus on the most important elements you bring to the table.

3. Come Prepared With the Facts. And a Visual.

This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of vendors who don’t come prepared and have to follow-up after a meeting with critical information. Buyers require good data in order to make the decision to bring an item into an assortment for test purposes. You don’t have to present all the facts on paper. Have them in your head or in the appendix of a deck.  The goal is to make the Buyer’s job easy and show off your preparedness.

Take this a step further and don’t be afraid to share your creative vision for the relationship. If you want your product on a test end cap, have your design team create a mock-up of an end cap visual (or, if the design team is you, do it yourself!). Provide a proposal of store count and outline the price point you want to launch in market, know competitive pricing (if there is any), underline the inventory assumptions, and call out your first available ship date. This could cut out months of back-and-forth and fast-track your set date.

Have questions? Want help with your retail launch? Get in touch, and be sure to check out this post on providing another perspective on selling to retailers.

Brie is a Senior Buyer & Brand Manager for Target Food & Beverage where she is responsible for both product development and category management of private label products. She spends a lot of time thinking about and advising companies on how to get your food or beverage product onto shelves.

Prior to joining Target, Brianne received her MBA from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. While at UNC, Brie co-founded FoodCon, an inaugural conference now in its 5th year, to provide both students and industry professionals with an inter-disciplinary forum to debate current trends in the food industry. She also had the good fortune of working alongside Erin (RealFoodMBA’s founder) as a Kirchner Food Fellow, scouting out promising early-stage food & agriculture startups seeking capital investment.

Her passion is to both build & enable up-and-coming food brands and technology platforms. And, of course, she loves cheese.

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