Editor's Plate: What grocers want

Sept. 22, 2004
Retailers could use some help in marketing your products
Where have all the sales reps gone? That was, far and away, the most frequently voiced comment directed at food processors by the grocers I talked to at May’s Supermarket Industry Convention here in Chicago. The Food Marketing Institute’s annual show is a wonderful affair that brings together food manufacturers like yourselves with grocery retailers. Except for a three-year hiatus, I’ve been attending it for 12 years now, and I’m never disappointed by the energy, the new products and the overall purposefulness exhibited by the food processors at this show. It offers a unique look into the two main worlds of food: the manufacturers and the retailers. Despite the constant booth visits between those two camps, I wish there were more structured ways the two sides could talk about how they can serve each other better and further their common cause. Maybe that could be a component of next year’s FMI. So I buttonholed as many grocers as I could walking the aisles of FMI and asked them what food processors could do for them. Here are their suggestions (in descending order):

· More visits by sales reps. This was mentioned by three-quarters of the grocers I talked to. “We haven’t seen some reps in…how long?” Ken Lansing of Martin’s IGA, a small grocery in Effingham, Ill., asked one of his co-workers. “Smaller markets like ours especially can go a long time without seeing a vendor’s rep.”

What’s so important about seeing sales reps? “We certainly would do a better job of selling their product if we knew a little more about it before it went on the shelf,” added Joseph Lueken of Lueken’s Foods, Bemidji, Minn. “The better informed we are, the more we’ll sell, but too many reps are just pushing cases,” commented Rob Miller of Dave’s Markets, Cleveland.

One guy, in fact, said a certain processor’s sales rep didn’t come around until after a new product, which did poorly, was pulled from the shelves. “And then he asked why,” the grocer smirked.

· More new products, but just likely winners. Grocers showed their split personality, and to appease them food processors probably need a crystal ball. The retailers acknowledge that new products certainly create excitement and growth and often fly off the shelves, but the retailers are running out of shelf space.

“We are overwhelmed,” said Darrell Jensen of Harmon’s City Grocery, Salt Lake City, Utah. “Last month alone we cut in more than 300 new items. We love new products, but we don’t have the space for all of them. Not all of them are going to be winners. I wish we could just get the winners.” (He said he realized what a tall order that was.)

"It’s hard to pick which ones to replace," added Jeff Duritza of Duritza’s Enterprises, a small chain based in Washington, Pa. “I’m sure it’s also hard for them to predict which ones are going to succeed, but there’s only so much room.”

· More in-store promotions, especially sampling. “I’d like to see more sampling allowances. It seems those have tailed off lately,” said Ron Moore of Whole Foods Market in Wheaton, Ill. “It seems some vendors promise a lot to get in your door but then don’t deliver (on sampling).”

"We definitely need more sampling," added Kevin Nehring of Woodlake Market, Kohler, Wis. — although he admitted he worked in the wine department, where he thought there was more of a need for sampling than in the rest of the store.

“Coupons, in-store promotion materials, more Sunday inserts,” was the wish list of Don Bushue, from Martin’s IGA in Effingham, Ill.

Those were the big vote-getters. Other suggestions were “keep your labels clean — unless absolutely necessary use as few chemicals as possible.” However, that came from Sally Pluot, who manages a largely organic Eatopia in Richmond,Va. “Low-carb is absolutely hot. Keep those products coming. More ethnic foods, too — as authentic as possible,” suggested Laura Ellwood of Ramey Price Cutter in Springfield, Mo. She also said she was excited by the new packaging initiatives across the hall in the associated produce show. “I think they’re showing some great ideas by packaging produce for one and two people, doing for fruit what fresh-cut did for salads, and bundling different produce products together. We need more of that.”That’s what the grocers want to say to you processors. Oh, and one more thing (the speaker will remain anonymous): “Return our phone calls when we call.”Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief
Tel 630-467-1300, ext. 424
Fax: 630-467-1179
E-mail: [email protected]

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