How to Sell to Grocery Giants Wal-Mart and Whole Foods

How did a squeezable fruit pouch maker land its products on the shelves of 18,000 stores in just two years' time? Here's a hint: marketing was a key ingredient.

It all started in 2006 when Fabian Milon couldn't find squeezable fruit pouches -- a popular and healthy snack in his native France -- anywhere in the U.S. Voila! The Coral Gables, Fla.-based Buddy Fruits was born in 2009.

A restaurateur in France at the time of his inspiration, Milon used his culinary experience to create recipes. Meanwhile Buddy Fruits' co-founder and CEO, Jerome Lesur, handled marketing and business development. Here are seven steps they recommend taking to get your foot in the door of a major grocer like Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart, Kroger and Publix:

  1. Use and train your brokers: If a buyer is inaccessible or unresponsive, use brokers with access to the major stores. Brokers have something you don't: A pre-existing relationship with grocery-chain buyers. Convince them to carry your line, then train and equip them with everything from samples to press kits, which they can use to successfully tell your story.
     
  2. Show the trend: Prove your product's significance in today's marketplace with both quantifiable and anecdotal information. For Buddy Fruits, their value proposition of "One Buddy Fruits a day keeps the doctor away" aligned with popular messages from Michelle Obama, Jamie Oliver and school boards across the U.S. Demonstrate that your product is right, not just "right now," for the store and its demographic. An industry leader such as Wal-Mart won't be interested in your product if it's a fad or a flash in the pan.
     
  3. Don't go in cold: Show that you have loyal customers and tell the store buyer what you've already achieved in terms of success and distribution. This is where you trot out your business model complete with market research and sales figures.
     
  4. Position the product: Lesur says that because their product contains 100 percent fruit, he wanted it positioned in the produce section near the fresh fruit -- despite the fact that it's packaged. The move made sense to the big grocers, as did the company's slogan: "Eating Fruits Made Easy!"
     
  5. Stand out: Remember, your packaging is tailored for your retailers every bit as much as for your customers. Big brand grocers will yank your product off the shelves if customers aren't looking at it. Remember, if your product doesn't pop, everybody loses money.
     
  6. Secure a distributor: Distribution deals are critical in the food and beverage industry. Whole Foods, Kroger and other national chains won't meet with you unless you have a distributor. But don't expect to lock up giants from the start. Secure a mid-sized distribution company and prove yourself first. Once you have the data, the charts, the proof, the graphs, a profit -- that's when you make your move on the industry leader.
     
  7. Find an advantage: Every distribution company already has clients. Offer the one you want to work with something they don't have. Find the distributor that doesn't carry anything resembling what you offer, including your value proposition

What steps would you add to this list of how to land on grocers' shelves? Leave a comment and let us know.