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Domenick Celentano

A Case Study of a Woman Entrepreneur Rebooting to Get Retail Shelf Ready

By June 1, 2011

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A woman entrepreneur realizes Using Public Relations to Drive Demand is the key.

Adriana Gardella wrote an article Using Public Relations to Drive Demand featuring Jill Cartwright, an entrepreneur who started Go GaGa, a company selling ergonomically correct tote bags targeted to women. So why is this here on the food and beverage site? Is she a woman food entrepreneur?

Because it is a good example of what I call having a Shelf Ready Food Product. Product based businesses that are not e-commerce based rely on retail channels of distribution to distribute and then sell products to the consumers. It is different from other businesses and most bodies of knowledge on entrepreneurship to do not address these differences and many food entrepreneurs learn the hard way. The area of food entrepreneurship and in particular, knowledge to help woman food entrepreneurs is virually non-existent, except of course here at the food and beverage site of About.com :)

Ms. Cartwright, 38, learned quickly how to work effectively with the independently owned boutiques that began to carry her bags. A major retailer then took on the product and things seemed to be going well. Shortly thereafter the buyer notified here that the chain was dropping Go GaGa. "She said they needed to scale back," said Ms. Cartwright. But that was not the real reason.

So what happened? She was placing sales people in the stores to sell yet chain stores don't place salespeople in the aisles. Yes there are exceptions but your product like hers, must sell themselves.

The buyer said she must expand her assortment, to generate enough sales to meet their minimum thresholds. Retailers , and Grocery Retailers in particular, have minimums and the moment you drop below this minimum, you are discontinued. This can be a shock since the food entrepreneur working on a new product launch, may believe the sales are sufficient since they are substantial to the food entrepreneur... but remember the grocery retailer is larger and has other objectives that need to be met AND they may seem in conflict to your objectives and/or the needs of the consumer.

Finally, her products needed better packaging to stand in the crowded shelves that are loaded with competitive products. Listen all of you food entrepreneurs, the average supermarket carries between 15,000 to 50,000 food items and you have less than a few seconds to grab the consumer's eye. Food packaging is the food entrepreneur's ONLY vehicle to do this. What works on your e-commerce site or in a small independent retailer usually is ineffective elsewhere.

This is a great case study article for all food entrepreneurs and women food entrepreneurs to take away valuable lessons learned.

Consumer food products are unique in so far as the need to address two customers. The first is  understanding the needs of your customer, which is the grocery retailer. These needs must be satisfied to get your product "on the shelf". This is called the retailer value proposition. Food Entreprenerus must pay attention to the value proposition, namely developing food products that have a Specific, Measurable and Favorable result. For the retailer this is minimum sales per store per week, required gross margin for the department you are in, product that hits a certain price point that the retailer deems to be reasonable for the category, and a host of others.

After you satisfy the grocery retailer, you must satisfy the unique needs of the consumer and understanding the consumer value proposition: the positioning that effectively  gets the product off the "shelf". For consumers this is an affordable price, a product that is the right size for their consumption needs, packaging that clearly states the features and benefits of what you make and a positioning that says how you either save the consumer money or make their life better.

New product launches of retail food products must have shelf-ready attributes required by the grocery retail trade. The primary ones are packaging, labeling, supply chain issues, size, format, price and promotional support.  If you don't have each of these addressed, it is unlikely you will get on the shelf or stay on the shelf. You can see that Jill had packaging issues that were corrected, unfortunately after she was discontinued.

There is an increasing number of women food entrepreneurs seeking to start food product based businesses. Cases studies like this are invaluable to women food entrepreneurs aspiring to start a specialty foods business. 

If you are a woman food entrepreneur, contact me. You may have an inspirational food entrepreneurship story that will inspire others.


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