For some small businesses, getting their products into supermarkets is largely based good old-fashioned luck. Fraser Doherty, founder of Eat Super Ltd, was running a very small firm making his own jams. At a buyer’s fair in Edinburgh he got talking with a buyer from Waitrose who was impressed by the product. In a good stroke of coincidence, some new Waitrose stores were opening in Edinburgh, and Doherty found somewhere to produce the jam on a large scale, and was soon in Waitrose nationwide.
Similarly, Justine Cather, founder of luxury fudge company Brown Sugar, was running a very small-scale business until she took a stall at London’s Borough market. Waitrose again spotted the potential and made an approach, soon followed by the other large supermarkets.
You have to obviously be extremely lucky to get that type of break, and ready to take on the challenge when the time comes. There’s lots you can do to increase your chances of getting into supermarkets, starting off with actively approaching them.
It’s likely you will send letter after letter to supermarkets without hearing anything for a while. Paul Lindley, who set up children’s food business Ella’s Kitchen explains that he sent letters and made phone calls into Sainsbury’s, “then followed up with many, many phone calls and emails – never getting to actually speak to anyone over the next few months.” Eventually he made contact with the right person who invited him in to talk about the product. His pitch and the product impressed her so much she agreed to trial the product. A trial period is almost always how small business start their presence in supermarkets.
As James Averdieck, who set up Gu chocolate puds puts it: “Supermarkets get sent tons of new products every week so buyers don’t want to see you. They’ll say ‘send it in and we’ll have a look it’. I made sure I got to sell to them,” And he made sure he went in with a ‘ready-to-go’ product – not just a concept. “We took them the finished, packaged Real McCoy and proved the supply chain was set up. Too many people see them as business advisers who’ll help you with your brand – they’re not.”