I sat down with Carl Smith, Specialty Food/Grocery Buyer, from Southern California’s premier gourmet market, Bristol Farms. Carl has been with Bristol Farms for twenty years. During his tenure he has seen thousands of products and he determines which ones should be sold on the shelves of this leading market. You could say Carl is a leading food trend-setter. In my humble opinion, Carl has the most discerning eye on the west coast.
Bristol Farms has sixteen stores in California and caters to the upscale food shopper. Their assortment is selective, and the market only displays the best products in each food/specialty category. Bristol Farms also has an outstanding seasonal selection prominently displayed as you enter each store. Before you launch your product, take some tips from our pro – Carl Smith!
Packaging- “The Wow Factor”
For each food item, there are over 1,000 products manufactured. Will your product stand out on the shelf, or blend in and go unnoticed? Does your product look like another brand? Don’t imitate a successful brand already in the marketplace, e.g., don’t copy Godiva. Your product must be unique or it must be the first one of its kind.
Your packaging has to pop and catch a buyer’s eye. Research other products like yours. See what packaging works and what falls short. Peruse other markets, the Internet, catalogues, and know what products are selling. Is there anything about their packaging that stands out?
Don’t Over-Invent Yourself
When you enter the marketplace, you should only have 1 product or the same product in different sizes, i.e. sample size and regular size. You do not need to start out with an entire line. If you enter the market with twelve different products, you dilute your own products and run the risk of losing focus. Besides, no retailer is going to give you that much shelf space. Make a presence for yourself before you introduce more flavors or different sizes.
Once your product is well established, introduce only one new product a year, e.g., a new flavor. That keeps buyers interested in your product line and gives you a new reason every year to reach out and follow up with retailers.
Reevaluate your existing line each year. If an item or size is not a good seller, don’t be afraid to drop it from your assortment. Believe that change and reinvention is usually positive.
Target your Audience
Before you launch a product, know who your customer will be. That will help you position your merchandise in the marketplace. It will also help you focus what retailers to go after. Look at your product. Look at the aesthetics of the store you want to carry your item. Is it a good fit? Do your homework before your waste your time and marketing budget.
Create a Marketing Program
Create a marketing plan that you can realistically put into action. Take into account in-store product demonstrations, advertising in a store’s newsletter, and promotions. If you are just starting out and don’t have a big budget, develop creative ways to market. Consider online and viral marketing.
Develop a one-year marketing plan and allow yourself to adjust it along the way. Think about where you are going to get the capitol to support your plan. Do you have financial support? Are you planning to finance the product yourself? Financing a product can be daunting; especially in this economy, so know where your money will be coming from before you begin.
Along the lines of financing, I (Momma Reiner) would suggest you consider forming a small Board of Directors who would be willing to meet once a month to help guide your decisions. This board can be made up of various people, including but not limited to a banker, a lawyer, a businessperson, advertising or sales and marketing professional, or an experienced industry person. It is essential to have objective opinions as your business grows and matures. Initially, you may ask successful friends who are willing to act as mentors to volunteer for these positions.
Look for New Avenues to Pursue
Big markets always look for the common denominator. They want a product that will appeal to the largest audience. So, when you first introduce a product consider starting with smaller markets, ethnic markets, or specialty stores. They will be more likely to take a chance on a new manufacturer with a unique product. A specialty store will also be more inclined to sell a product made in small batches or by hand.
Sugar Momma’s Advice
When I look back on my own experience introducing Momma Reiner’s Fudge into the marketplace, I can see the tremendous value in each point Carl raised. With his expert advice, Carl points any Mompreneur down the right path and prevents many pitfalls a beginner is likely to encounter.
The one piece of advice I would add is, “Dig in your own backyard.” When asked, I always tell new entrepreneurs to start small and local. Approach stores that you are familiar with and that you’re comfortable in yourself. When you are dealing with local retailers, they are more likely to help you along and forgive your early missteps. Give yourself one to two years to gain experience and to see how the market ebbs and flows with each season. Your product may have a peak season and a slow season. All of this information is important to learn. As your business expands and you function in a more routine fashion, then you can begin to venture outside your region and take on larger shipping, manufacturing, and distribution.
Finally, don’t fear mistakes. You are going to make them and on the job training is the best way to learn quickly. Best of luck to all the Mompreneurs out there!
The Sugar Mommas