Foodservice Salad – selling in foodservice

Foodservice Salad

Over the 2.5 years since I started Grow Foodservice, I’ve talked to dozens of companies, mostly entrepreneurs, about their plans to get into foodservice. As my partners and I discuss foodservice distribution with folks, often there is a need for education on how to get ready for the market and what it takes to effectively sell operators and distributors.

Here is a “primer” for those looking at foodservice with any kind of scale.

  1. Before you start selling, you need to be ready:
    1. Packaging & labeling need to serve the operator, distributor, and you. Often the packaging and labeling are different from CPG.
    2. If you are going to make claims, like “organic” you need to make sure you have all your documentation current.
    3. Pricing needs to cover all aspects of the supply chain. Recently, I talked to someone who sold product to a university. The distributor had the item close coded to the street. There wasn’t a rebate for the distributor, so the distributor had little interest in selling it to other accounts.
    4. You’ll need GS1 images & quality spec sheets.
    5. Distributors will want you to have insurance & include the distributor on your policy.
    6. Your target audience is typically a chef, food & beverage manager, or the distributor. Your marketing materials should talk to them using foodservice language.
    7. Don’t expect the distributor to sell your product. Know which types of customers you want and have your own plan to attack the market.
    8. You’ll need a strategic go-to-market plan. Although the plan may change, you need to know where you are headed & how you plan to get there.
    9. Trust me, there is more preparation to be had, these are just the top considerations.
  2. Selling usually takes longer than you expect.
    1. Don’t expect to start selling until you have done the necessary groundwork. Some folks are anxious to get selling too soon! If you don’t have your basics taken care of you risk disappointing your new customer because of supply chain issues or yourself because your pricing is too low.
    2. It can be difficult to get to the right decision maker. Patience is needed.
    3. Let’s say you strike gold! An item needs to get set up with a distributor which can happen in hours or could take months!
      1. The customer needs to put it on their menu. With an independent restaurant a new menu item can be added instantly. With a chain, it can be MANY months to go from, “yes, I’ll consider your product” to being on the menu.
    4. Strategic planning and sales by retainer or commission?
      1. As a consultant, we want to make sure expectations are clear. The client will be spending money without SALES results for a period. All the work in point 1 above needs to get done, first. What is the accountability for each party? Clarity in planning and communication should help prevent confusion later.
      2. At Grow Foodservice, we work on a retainer basis. This allows us to focus on our client’s needs and do the proper planning. When we are involved in selling, we work to build sales and replace the retainer with commissions.
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