Is my product too ‘niche’ for stores?

A startup founder poses a problem they're having and two experts in the industry offer practical advice. Here Charlie Bowker, co-founder of London-based Native Snacks, seeks help in getting customers to take a chance on an unknown product category.
Native Snacks hero

‘My startup unearths and sells new snacks from around the world. Our first product is Popped Lotus Seeds, which are stocked in retailers such as As Nature Intended, but we’re looking to build our distribution further. How can we convince buyers at larger retailers to take a risk on a new and rather untested concept?’



Jason Gibb

Founder, Bread & Jam Festival

‘Buyers look for three things in a new product – a clear point of difference, the chance for them to build their margin and the assurance it will drive sales. They don’t want to take risks and can detect the whiff of bullshit a mile off, so always provide evidence.

‘It sounds like you achieved “point of difference” since you have a new product. It's not a drawback – it's an advantage, and your chance to champion a new category.

‘Next is the margin (and your commercials). You need to focus on your COG, manufacturing agreements, supply chain and any dark corner where you can bring costs down. It’s the unsexy part of the business, but it’s fundamental.

‘You need to know the buyers’ margin expectations and how you can improve them. Launch with a promo price, offer three promos a year (protecting their margin), and give them a marketing plan to blow their socks off. 

‘If you can afford all this, then it’s onto the final area – how are you going to increase their sales? You should have sales data from ANI that demonstrates sales growth. Back this up with the how, why and when people want your product, what trends are driving this and what the size of the prize is.

‘On the assumption that you don’t immediately get invited for a meeting, you need to drip feed them weekly with evidence you will make them money (trend reports, customer feedback, new listings). 

‘Remember: be courteous and don’t ever contact them on a Monday or a Friday.’ 


Thea Alexander

Co-founder, Young Foodies

‘New concepts are notoriously difficult to justify space, as they’re a risk for the buyer who will always be reluctant to take risks. However, the incremental value brought to snacking by new innovations in recent years have made snacking buyers more receptive than used to be the case.

‘In any buyer conversation the first step is to listen to and think about their needs. What are their challenges? What gaps exist in their range that is leading to them missing out on sales? What innovations are they looking for and what are the reasons behind that?

‘You then need to build a case, step-by-step, for why you' are the solution. Share with them the high level trends in snacks, your observations in their fixture, why Popped Lotus Seeds are the answer and then eventually why Native Snacks are the brand they should go for. The whole way through, think about contextualising it for their shoppers – and their needs. What solution do you present that unlocks value for their category? How can you be sure their shoppers will buy your product? What can you give them that no one else can?

‘All value has to be incremental: either you bring them more shoppers; get shoppers spending more; or get them buying more often. My best advice for demonstrating this is by using the data from your other listings to create case studies. This is one other reason to make sure you smash things, as nature intended.’ 

This article was first published in Courier Issue 31, October/November 2019. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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