One of my fondest childhood memories is of my grandfather’s A&P grocery store in Tiffin, Ohio. If we were lucky enough, my sister I would get to spend Saturday night at my grandparents’ house, attend church the next morning, and then—the highlight of the day—we would stop by the store my grandfather managed. In the late 1960s, the store was always closed on Sundays. A closed grocery store is a magical place to a five- or six-year-old kid. We had the run of the place. Zipping up and down center-of-store aisles that were stacked tall with products, checking out our breath in the frozen food freezers and, of course, getting shooed away from the candy aisle and playing on the checkout lanes. I fell in love with the place.
Today, the grocery store aisle still has a hold on me. I can’t just run in for a jar of spaghetti sauce or lettuce greens without pausing to check out a new product or packaging upgrade. If I am shopping for the week with my wife, she will hear me say “I’ll catch up” more than once while I jot down a few notes in my phone or sneak a few pics of a new product. No other consumer retail outlet can match the supermarket as a highly competitive intersection of constantly evolving trends, innovation, and new product launches. The goal of this book is to help small, local, and emerging regional food brands grow market share within this consumer-driven space.
Maybe that’s why I have spent my entire career working in the business of consumer-packaged goods (CPG) branding ranging from hardware, kitchen gadgets, office supplies to crafts, toys, games, and, of course, food. Whether working with established brands such as Ace Hardware, Master Lock, Rubbermaid, Wilson Sporting Goods, or Hasbro, or with emerging brands in the food sector, one constant has remained clear:
The consumer may be king, but the retail and food service buyer is the gatekeeper. Therefore, it is in a supplier’s best interest to know what a buyer cares about and is looking for in a supplier.
What exactly is a buyer looking for in a supplier? If you asked 10 manufacturing food salespeople this question, you would probably get 10 different answers. But if you asked 10 different food buyers the same question, you would probably only receive a few different answers. This book walks you through those buyers’ answers as well as our third-party point of view on best practices for growing your brand.
In my experience acting as marketing and brand support for sales teams that sell into every type of retailer—small chains, mid-major regional stores, national big-box outlets—one constant stands out: buyers are looking for information in the form of category leadership, and category leadership only comes with doing your homework.
About homework, there comes a time when you’ll realize that you must roll up your sleeves and do the real work to experience real success. This holds true even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone— and potentially on someone else’s toes—to make an impact.
Homework started sooner than expected for me. Early in my career, the product team at Ace Hardware came back from a sourcing trip with 10 different bathroom hardware fixture sets: towel bars, toilet paper holders, and such all available in brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel. Their job was to “pitch” the line to the stores. My firm was asked to create a branded program, name each line under the program, and develop the sell copy and packaging.
What does a young marketer with limited experience in bath hardware do in this situation? He dives in the trenches. In the days before the internet, it meant heading out to the hardware and department stores where these items were sold to learn as much as I could about the category. I learned about price points, product names, and packaging trends, and how the product was merchandised on the retail shelf as well as hitting the right perceived value with the packaging and branding.
With this type of homework ingrained in my work-DNA, I took a position at Warren Industries with its RoseArt-branded puzzle, craft, and game subsidiary. I started out as a creative director and oversaw the departments of research and development as well as creative services. I, then, became the director of marketing in the last half of my time with the organization. During my tenure at Warren, RoseArt became the No. 1 brand in the country with category management roles at Walmart and Meijer. However, we only got there by doing the work.