How to get your product on to supermarket shelves
Cools Beans founders Sarah and Isolde on developing relationships with buyers
(Left to right) Isolde Johnson and Sarah O’Connor: Our next goal was to grow as quickly as possible. Every business wants to be bigger, because with most businesses (food especially) you are chasing volume in order to hit profitability and ultimately be viable
We haven’t checked in on the Cool Beans journey in a while and that’s mainly because the past few months have been the busiest we’ve ever been as a business. We have been running hard, but we have learned a huge amount, so what better way to reflect than by passing on some of the learnings and advice.
Our goal in 2014 was to bring Cool Beans, our healthy cannellini bean meal to the retail market. Check! We launched in SuperValu in September after going through their Food Academy (a support programme to help artisan food companies reach a larger market and grow).
Our next goal was to grow as quickly as possible. Every business wants to be bigger, because with most businesses (food especially) you are chasing volume in order to hit profitability and ultimately be viable. We are no exception. We did however have to be realistic as to how quickly we could grow.
We are currently at the start of a really exciting time for the business. We have just secured our first central retail listing and are available to all SuperValu stores in Ireland. We thought it would be the solution to our growing distribution and availability issues and it was, but it, too, brings its own unique challenges.
The first of these is the lingo “available to” or centrally listed (for any fledgling companies hoping to get into retail). This means you are listed for all stores to order your product, but unless they know about your product or have seen a demand in the market (such as somebody has asked in store for your brand), it is unlikely they will order.
So while any SuperValu in the country can order Cool Beans – not all of them have or will, and sometimes when they do it is left in the back fridges and never reaches the shelves.
Here is where the hard yards, big mileage and long days come in; you need to be constantly visiting stores, conducting tastings with customers and getting your brand out there through PR.
So what’s the plan?
Visit as many stores as humanly possible
Get to know our store managers and category managers (in our case it’s the chill manager) and appreciate the already heavy work load they have.
Try to figure out a system that helps make their job easier – sometimes even just a short text reminder to place an order for Cool Beans can make all the difference. To help with this goal, we have hired our first employee.
It’s a thrilling and terrifying proposition all at the same time. James is a fantastic addition to the team and you’ll meet him out and about in SuperValu stores all over the country.
He also is helping us reach a wider audience online with his digital marketing expertise.
Tastings, tastings, tastings
Our mums, friends, siblings – everyone has been roped in to help. You have to be in stores sampling the product on multiple days, in multiple locations every week, so that consumers can try before they buy.
People who have heard about the product might pick it up out of interest, but really to get repeat purchases and to help people learn about the brand, you have to get them to taste it.
Tell anyone who will listen
We have both got pretty shameless about talking about Cool Beans. It’s our baby and we love telling people about it. You have to develop a thick skin fast as some people don’t want to know about it, while others can’t get enough.
The secret here is to adjust your pitch as to why the product might appeal to someone.
A fitness-loving guy might just want a one liner on the high protein content and he’s sold, whereas a health-conscious mum wants to know that there is no processed sugar, and someone who is time-poor, looking for something for dinner, wants to know it is ready in minutes and is a healthy complete meal. Bottom line – know your customers and sell accordingly.
Tune in next time when we’ll fill you in on the next stage of our packaging palaver and dish out more advice on what to expect when you start your own food business.
Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson are the founders of Cool Beans