So you want to become a Walmart Vendor? Better speak to an expert, Erik Rosenstrauch, President & CEO of FUEL Partnerships to learn how to sell a food product to the giant, Walmart. So before we jump into our Six Steps a food entrepreneur needs to execute I asked him to explain what they do.
"At FUEL, we build our client's business by creating exclusive programs at retailers to increase transactions… we focus on helping consumer brands drive sales at a retailer. We don't sell into a retailer, we create programming that come to life in the retail environment. Research consistently shows that 75% of purchase decisions are made at the shelf… we help brands influence consumers to select your brand."
Wal-Mart is the Moby Dick of retailers and an amazing whale to capture! "When you hook that whale, your boat better be equipped to handle it. I see mistakes with companies that have a great product, land Wal-Mart as an account and then realize…how do I fulfill the orders!" according to Erik.
So here are 6 Steps you need to know to successfully sell to Walmart.
Develop Your Products to be Walmart Customer Relevant
Walmart loves to be the first to market with a new product that is relevant to their customers. How do you do this? I call it Research By Driving Around! Walmarts new supplier page, Get to Know Walmart makes it clear what they want you to do:
" Compare your product or service to existing ones. Look at the types of products and services we sell and use. Does what you have to offer seem like a good fit? Would your product be appropriate on Walmart's shelves? Is your product or service the most innovative, best quality and at the lowest price?
Erik gave me an example of a successful client: "Walmart is a brand building retailer… they want new brands in store and not just those that focus on low cost." One of their clients Sheets, represents a brand that delivers what Walmart wants: new, innovative, and delivers real consumer need." Sheets is a cross between a Listerine breath strip and a 5 Hour energy drink… all in a convenient portable edible strip. There is nothing like it in the environment.
Make sure the product is different, innovative and substantially better
It is worth repeating… Walmart clearly states to new vendors " Is your product or service the most innovative, best quality and at the lowest price?" So when you are pitching to the Walmart buyer you need to present products in one of two ways:
Something New - Your product needs to be very Innovative because Walmart loves to be first to market. The rumors that 'if Walmart sees it is too expensive they won't take it… this is not true.
Something distinctly better (product line extension) - taking an existing product and adding features and benefits that your competition does not have.
Erik advises "If you can't do either of the above, then you had better be cheaper! However this is a "a race to the bottom" since your competition can always go lower and then what do you do? Go even lower? This is probably not a smart place to go". For early stage food entrepreneurs, you do not want to be in a price sensitive category, leave this arena to the big guys.
Understand Walmart's Key Initiatives for That Quarter or Year
Erik identified 3 key initiatives at Walmart to be aware of and to include in your Walmart sales pitch.
Social Media - Walmart focuses on building a social connection with their customers. Their commitment to social marketing is best illustrated by their Facebook page MyLocalWalmart. You need to bring along how you will engage in social media marketing. FUEL developed a unique program for FUEL based on innovative use of social media , gamification and celebrity endorser, Pitbull, that you can read more about in the FUEL Pitbull Case Study.
Hispanic Market - Wal-Mart is very focused on Hispanic market, so if you have a product that can be positioned to Hispanics, bring this into your program.
Being Green- Wal-Mart is very focused in sustainable and green so think about your packaging as to waste, your shipping containers and even your pallet configuration. They expect vendors to think about this before you make the call to the Wal-Mart buyer.
Pitching to Wal-Mart's - Know their Buying Calendar and Promotional Cycles
Buying Calendars - One thing that surprises most of my new food clients is this: retailers DO NOT buy all categories all year long. They have buying calendars where they frame a time range for considering and then authorizing new product on the shelves. I make sure foodpreneurs understand the best time frames to sell their products. Only the smallest retailers will buy without a calendar.
Where do you go to understand the Walmart buying calendar? Erik says "You will need help from a broker or a marketing agency such as FUEL Partnerships that specifically work with Walmart."
Promotional Calendars - Most every product has a seasonal component, so get to know what category you fit within and the seasonality of the category. FUELS client Hydroxycut has a health and wellness product which you might think has no seasonality. In fact the 1st Quarter is their best promotional season: many consumers New Year's resolution is losing weight"
Erik explains "When I am building promotions for clients and let's say these are for the 1st Quarter in any given year, I must work 8 to 10 months ahead of the product promotion launch date. If you miss your window of opportunity, you miss it for an entire year. "
Develop a Shopper Marketing Program with Innovative Ideas to Support Your Product
I always say it takes more than great tasting food to get on the shelf and Shopper Marketing encompasses all of your support programs that capture the attention of the consumer who as we have stated… 75% of brand decisions happen at the shelf.
You have heard that phrase, "if a tree falls in the forest, does it make noise". Walmart wants to see that your innovative marketing message means your tree makes a sound! Erik said "Hydroxycut is targeting moms… their brand positioning is making moms feel good about themselves. So their social media effort was a contest to win a vacation during school spring break. They achieved selling more product as well as making mom feel like a hero. Mom achieved her personal goals of losing weight and treating her family to a great vacation."
Work with Walmart Merchants and Marketing Team
Merchants are the buyers and merchandisers. A merchant(buyer) is responsible for what comes into the store. And will be focusing on your price points, deliveries, unit turns weekly/monthly and has the objectives of maximizing sales and profit on the shelf.
A food entrepreneur needs to combine merchant issues and marketing issues, the tactics that support you in-store program, in your retail sales pitch. One without the other will not get you on the Walmart shelves.