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How to Persuade a Huge Retailer to Give You Shelf Space

Check out the successful pitch that landed this little beef jerky company in Whole Foods.
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You have designed and produced something incredible that's going to fly off the shelves--as soon as you find some shelves for it to sit on. But how do you get a big, established retailer to want to give up floor space to sell your new product?

It's easier than you might think.

That's according to Jon Sebastiani, founder and CEO of Krave Jerky. Sebastiani spent nearly 18 months convincing Whole Foods to sell a new line of jerky the company created specifically for the natural food retailer, which Sebastiani calls "the holy grail of retailing."

Here's how he did it, and how you can get a retailer's attention, too.

1. Figure out what need you can fill for the store.

Before pitching Whole Foods, Krave had to ascertain that its jerky was something the chain needed.

First, Sebastiani looked at the Whole Foods customer demographic. Its customers tend to be educated and care about sourcing and traceability, which is why the food chain sells meat that is certified to meet Global Animal Partnership's (GAP) welfare rating standards, something Krave was able to provide.

At the same time, Sebastiani knew there was a reason his four-year-old company now sells in 40,000 U.S. stores, exports to Mexico and Canada, is offered on Virgin Airlines flights, and sits in Four Seasons hotel minibars.

"When you look at the snacking trends of America, protein is becoming something that many people are looking to increase in their diets as well as in their snacking, and Whole Foods does not have a brand that provides a qualitative jerky option," he says.

The trick was determining who within Whole Foods was the right person to pitch. Usually, Krave reaches out to salty snack buyers to establish a relationship, but after talking to employees in stores, it turned out the meat buyer was the person Sebastiani and his team needed to get to. 

"There's a totally different vernacular of conversation when you're talking to a snack buyer versus a meat buyer. The motivations of what they pay attention to trend wise as well as what they think about when they are looking at their customers are going to be very different," he says.

Knowing that difference was key. Sebastiani convinced the meat buyer to give him 15 minutes to pitch his product at Whole Foods' Austin headquarters.

2. Come up with a complete pitch--not a bunch of ideas for discussion.

Sebastiani had no intention of walking into Whole Foods headquarters with a merely a PowerPoint presentation.

Instead, he and his team designed and printed art work and packaging for the new lines of Jerky they were going to pitch.

"We had a whole campaign with different designs, different flavors, and the GAP-rated program that was already pre-prepared [to] present to them as exclusive so it was a little bit more of a turnkey," he says. "You can't go to a Whole Foods or any store for that matter and try to have a discussion with them. You need to have all the homework done and really have a proposition that can be delivered a yes or a no."

3. Offer exclusivity.

Not only did Sebastiani and his team promise to fill a need, they proposed new flavor lines specifically tailored for the Whole Foods demographic.

"The positioning of our brand is something that we have done differently for every other channel, obviously we have created a whole new line largely based on flavor as well as graphics, but the major differentiation that we are offering is it's a GAP-rated meat and we do not have that anywhere else," he says.

4. Involve the retailer in market research.

Whole Foods agreed Krave would help fill a void in its stores but wasn't sure if gourmet jerky would be a hot item in all its regions.

To make sure it would, Krave sent each of Whole Foods' eight regions care packages of various flavor profiles to sample. The idea: Get buy-in by involving Whole Foods' personnel in the selection of the best flavors of jerky for each individual market.

5. Conduct aggressive trials and marketing campaigns before launch.

Whole Foods will begin selling Krave products in June. With no contracts in place, the jerky company will need strong sales to retain its foothold with the natural foods behemoth.

"We are a big believer that no matter what I say to a potential customer about all the merits of nutritionals as well as how fancy the flavors are, until they try it, it's just words," Sebastiani says. "So we have incredibly aggressive trial campaigns where we're in stores providing sampling or we will participate with Whole Foods in various events where we're driving sampling."

For example, Whole Foods, Virgin Airlines, Krave, Destination Races, and Meb Meflezighi, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, have partnered to promote a contest aimed to drive consumers into Whole Foods stores where they can register for a drawing to win a trip to a participate in a half marathon to be held in Sonoma, California, wine country. The hope is that all of that brand association goodness will get the attention of even non-Jerky eaters.

"Our expectation based on all our trial data heavy research is that we know that when somebody tries it, they'll buy it again, they'll tell their friends, they'll tell their colleagues," Sebastiani says. 

Last updated: May 15, 2014




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