Tips on How to Do Business With Food and Drink Buyers
Today’s episode is about how to do business with food and drink buyers. We hear from Northern Munkee, an ex-buyer with experience of buying in the hot beverage and grocery, and crisps, snacks and nuts categories in discount retail stores.
Northern Munkee also writes a blog in which he shares a host of valuable tips and insights on how to do business with food and drink buyers.
To get excellent insights on what to say and what not to say, on what to do and what not to do when having sales calls with buyers, check out Northern Munkee’s excellent blog at: Northern Munkee Bites.
What You’ll Hear About in this Episode
Northern Munkee gives actionable tips on:
- how to make it more likely that a buyer will agree to a sales meeting with you
- how to be persistent without being a pest in your quest to secure meetings with buyers
- the key information you as a food or drink business need to know before you approach a buyer
- how to bypass buyers’ gatekeepers
- how the 80/20 rule applies to your interactions with buyers
- how to ask good questions of buyers
- three things you should avoid saying to a buyer
- how to frame your negotiations with buyers
- how to maintain good, on-going relationships with your buyers
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Get the Show Transcript
If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #036: Northern Munkee Bites: How to do Business With Food and Drink Buyers.
You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
Very Sound Bites from Northern Munkee Bites
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Links Mentioned in the Show
Northern Munkee has written a 7-part series full of tips on how to do business with food and drink buyers, which is Notes from the Other Side of the Desk. Food Buying. Here is the link to each easily digestible and actionable part in the series:
Thanks for Listening
Thanks for listening to the show. If you are a food or drink producer who would like to come on the show (it’s free) to talk about your products, or if you are an industry professional who would like to talk about your services, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the Contact Form on this website or by tweeting me @FoodDrinkShow.
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Transcript of the Show
Hello, and welcome to episode 35 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their brand story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host, Catherine Moran.
Today’s episode of the show is about how to do business with food and drink buyers. We’re going to hear from Northern Munkee, a person who wants to remain incognito. “Northern Munkee” is a nom de plume; more about that in a moment.
Northern Munkee cut his food and drink retailing teeth in the dynamic and highly competitive discount retail store sector, firstly as an area manager, looking after several stores, then in sales and then as a buyer for hot beverages and grocery, and crisps, snacks and nuts.
On the show, Northern Munkee talks about what makes buyers agree to meet with food and drink companies who want to pitch their products, the importance of being persistent with buyers, and how to be persistent without being a pest, the key information you as a food or drink business need to know before you approach the buyer, how to bypass buyers’ gatekeepers, how the 80/20 rule applies to your interactions with buyers, how to ask good questions of buyers, three things you should avoid saying to a buyer, how negotiable buyers can be, and how to maintain good, on-going relationships with your buyers.
Northern Munkee writes a blog called Northern Munkee Bites, which you can read at www.northernmunkeebites.wordpress.com. There are two sections on the blog that I think you should take a look at. One is “Food Buying”, which “offers a peek behind the curtain of retail buying”. This is full of insights based on Northern Munkee’s own experience as a buyer and it gives actionable tips that will make you more effective in sales meetings with buyers.
The second section that’ll be useful for you is the section called “Food Finds”. In this section Northern Munkee reviews food and drink products with his buyer’s hat on. So, he gives his thoughts not just on flavour but also, design, branding, packaging and price point. I remember when I stumbled on Nortern Munkee Bites I remember thinking, wow!, the information and insight here is amazing. I’m not aware of any other food and drink related blog out there that gives the buyer’s perspective on products, so do check it out, it’s at at www.northernmunkeebites.wordpress.com.
Let’s get on with the show now. You may notice a little interference now and again just for the a few minutes — we had to switch from Skype to landline. Please bear with us, as the content is excellent. Here now, is my conversation with Northern Munkee.
|Catherine Moran:||Northern Munkee, welcome to the Artisan Food & Drink Business Show. Thank you very much for taking the time come and have a chat with us today, all about food and drink buying.|
|Northern Munkee:||Thank you very much for having me.|
|Catherine Moran:||It’s a pleasure. What I thought we could do during our conversation is maybe to structure it in terms of the food or drink company’s journey with the buyer. I thought perhaps if you’re happy to we could go through firstly, how to get a meeting with the buyer, and then the actual meeting, once you’ve secured the meeting, what you should do and maybe shouldn’t do during that meeting. Finally, assuming that the meeting has been successful and you’ve got your product listed, how you can ensure that the product stays listed — I suppose, in other words, how to keep the buyer happy. Are you okay with that?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yeah, that sounds fantastic.|
|Catherine Moran:||Brilliant. Before we get into that would you mind giving us a very quick overview about your career in food and drink buying?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yeah, absolutely. I did an English degree at university. So it wasn’t particularly relevant to my — what turned out to be — my career choice. It was something that I took because I enjoyed it. I would say that it has helped me in my career; it helps me to structure arguments, and a strong command of the language and communication is really important.My first job in food and drink was as an area manager. It was operational. I was looking after between five and six discount retail stores. That was really good to build my understanding of the coalface. What it’s like on the shop floor. What drives shopper decisions, what good merchandising looks like.|
|From there I went into sales. I got trained by a large blue chip FMCG business. That’s where I learned to interact with food and how that affects shopper behaviour, what works from a marketing perspective in terms of sales drivers. That led me, quite naturally, to go around the other side of the desk to become a buyer. The cliché that it’s “just the other side of the desk”… and that’s all it is. In terms of behaviours, it’s the same drivers; it’s ultimately the same end. We all want to sell more but it’s just taking a slightly different angle on it.|
|My first buying role was looking after hot beverages and grocery. It was a huge category, quite a slow moving category, both of those, not like crisps or confectionery where the rate of sale is astronomical and very important in terms of the total turnover. Brings a good grounding position. From there I went on to look after some more important categories, crisps, snacks and nuts — one of the pillars of the channel I was working in, which was convenience. I was doing that role for around two years. That was my step into buying. It wasn’t as straightforward as a business degree at university and then become a buyer. It was my journey to that role.|
|Catherine Moran:||Would you tell us if there is any such thing as “a typical day in the life of” for a food and drink buyer, what would that look like?|
|Northern Munkee:||It’s quite a tough question to answer. There’s no typical day, I wouldn’t say. Like a lot of roles within the food and drink industry, it’s very dynamic, very fast-paced. No two days are really the same, however, there are a few constants.There’s probably one thing that I didn’t fully appreciate before I became a buyer and that’s just how busy the role is. As a salesperson, I was constantly being told by my buyers “I don’t have time for you, you need to be quicker, I’m that busy you need to be in and out and be very efficient”. I thought that was a tactic. It wasn’t. When I used to go and see buyers when I was a salesperson I was always, I suppose, sceptical of how busy they said they were. I thought it was a tactic to put me under pressure, to get me to work more quickly. It wasn’t. Buyers are the busiest people I know within the industry. It was very difficult for me to put across to my former sales colleagues just how different it was and how much busier it was. That’s a constant. Any buyer you speak to will be stupidly busy, not have time to let their feet touch the ground.|
|In terms of all the constants in the typical day of a buyer, daily reporting, there were always reports and analysis to do. I would usually start my day off with my boss so I knew what I might face throughout the day, if there was anything I needed to address very quickly. I would typically have two or three supply meetings a day, depending on what else I had going on in terms of range reviews. And then there would be follow up work after that. If I could leave the first hour and the last hour of the day free to settle the day and tie up loose ends, that was a bonus for me.|
|Catherine Moran:||It sounds like there is an awful lot of number crunching going on… that you had to do?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes. An awful lot. Ultimately, that was what needed to do the talking in terms of my performance. If the numbers didn’t work it didn’t matter what else I did.|
|Catherine Moran:||Sure, that makes sense. Ultimately it is all about the numbers isn’t it? Turning a profit, isn’t it?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes, absolutely. Nothing else keeps the boss happier.|
|Catherine Moran:||I can imagine. Let’s move on, then, to a meeting with the buyer. What makes buyers agree to meet with food and drink companies who want to pitch their products?|
|Northern Munkee:||That would depend on the proposal, it would depend on the company, it would depend on the category, I guess. If you’re — let’s take a large blue chip example — if you’re Walker’s [a major crisp and savoury snack manufacturer], as a buyer, I couldn’t not meet you. You would have my time, and quite regularly, because you are that important to my category, whether I liked you or not, I would see you on a regular basis.|
|If you’re a smaller supplier, so, let’s say if you’re a relatively unknown supplier, there are number of tactics you can use to get airtime with a buyer. One of them is persistence. It can feel like you’re being very annoying, can feel like you’re being a bit of a pest. But trust me when I say how busy your buyer is and if they’re seeing three suppliers a day, fifteen a week, sixty in a month, it’s very easy for you to jump down the rankings. The more times you’re being front of mind by being persistent, the better.I suppose the question I would ask myself as an artisan supplier wanting to meet a retailer, you need to answer the question concisely, “Why should I spend my time to see you?” If you can answer that within a sentence I think that’s what will make a buyer want to see you.|
|Catherine Moran:||Right. Actually one of the questions I was going to ask is about persistence. When does persistence cross the line and become just really, really annoying or an unacceptable nuisance, or does that not really happen?|
|Northern Munkee:||It does happen in as much that it can be quite annoying. I can think of some examples where the salespeople are extremely persistent. But I wasn’t giving them a straight answer, so I didn’t say, “No. I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to spend my time.” Therefore, that allowed them to keep coming back, which was fair enough. Eventually I gave in and he came to see me and do you know what? I was surprised. He overcame the idea in my head that he might be annoying, he might be a pest. I ended up listing the products. I initially saw him to shut him up, to be honest. Most buyers, because they’re human, don’t like letting people down, so to say, “No, I don’t want to see you” without a valid reason, is difficult for somebody to say. If they don’t say categorically, “Don’t come and see me, stop calling,” I would keep trying.|
|Catherine Moran:||In a way it’s sort of a signal that the door is potentially open or certainly slightly ajar and it’s up to them then to use their initiative and persistence to keep on trying to prise it open?|
|Northern Munkee:||I believe so. I suppose it’s about asking the right questions. “Is there a good time to come back? When are you looking at range reviews or new opportunities?” If it’s just, “I’m busy come back to me later,” then later could be tomorrow, it could be another week. If you don’t call back in six months you have definitely lost your opportunity.|
|Catherine Moran:||Right, six months. For companies who are trying to get that meeting with the buyer, what key information do they need to know before they actually approach the buyer in the first place?|
|Northern Munkee:||I think the biggest thing is understanding the customer. There’s only so much you can ascertain before you get there. It was surprising how little background work some people had done when they came to see me. There’s a number of ways you can glean this information. You can phone up the business and ask them questions. You could ask some colleagues in the industry if they’d had any experience with that particular buyer or that particular customer. There’s a raft of information on the internet so you shouldn’t come not knowing how many stores they’ve got, not knowing what their category looks like. Not knowing their typical price points, because you can go out and visit their stores. I think the most important thing is to make yourself appropriate by understanding the buyer’s business.|
|Catherine Moran:||As you said, and the buyer’s customers. I can see how that’s absolutely critical. Are there any situations in which there are gatekeepers for buyers that companies would have to get through? If so, how can they bypass the gatekeepers?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes, there are, so quite often, in the place I worked, the customer services team would be told if we don’t trade with that person, then don’t put them through to the buyer, which is very difficult if you’re a brand new supplier. But that was their instruction. It is about finding ways to get around the gatekeepers. If you’re persistent you’ll gain a relationship and you’ll form a relationship with the gatekeeper, which will help. There’s a number of other tactics you could use. You could send samples in. You could drop in on the off chance that they’ll have five minutes. You could email or contact the wrong colleague, you might know it’s the wrong person, but more often than not if I got a phone call through that was meant for a different category buyer I’d just put him through, whereas a gatekeeper would follow the process and knock him back.|
|Catherine Moran:||Would do the gatekeeping?|
|Catherine Moran:||It’s a matter of being imaginative in your approach?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. There’s a number of creative ways. It’s always challenging when there’s a gatekeeper because I suppose it’s black and white for them. If you say you don’t trade with them, you’re not going to get put through. But there are always ways around it.|
|Catherine Moran:||Don’t be downhearted and if at first you don’t succeed and all that.|
|Catherine Moran:||Let’s move on now to the actual meeting with the buyer. From your personal experience, would you be able to describe a meeting that you’d call highly satisfactory because you ended up deciding to list the product?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yeah, I think a highly satisfactory meeting would have a number of characteristics. One of those being that the… I think for me the key one is that they were appropriate. If the salesperson understood my business, firstly, and then was able to present a product that fits within my portfolio, would be appropriate for my customers and would add value to what I’m already doing, then it was difficult to say no. I think the first point would be to be appropriate.Second point is to be efficient. So, read your buyer. Understand if you’ve got a plethora of category information, as you take him through it, understand whether that’s relevant, ask him, “Are you engaged with that, what does does this mean to you?”. If it’s not, move on. A buyer may give you an hour. They may give you fifteen minutes. You need to be able to sell in five to make sure you’re efficient with your time when you’re in there. Just to develop that point, just be concise but informative.|
|If I was to say, “Give me three points now. Why should I list your products?” You should have that in one sentence.|
|Catherine Moran:||Right. On the tip of your tongue. And that’s all about preparation, really?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. In terms of percentage of time spent on the actual sale, they’d be in front of the buyer probably 20%. The rest of it should be prep and making sure you’re appropriate.|
|Catherine Moran:||Okay. So, what about the other side of the coin then? In a meeting or meetings where you just decided to reject the product or the company, for what reasons would those situations have happened?|
|Northern Munkee:||There’s a number of reasons. It might not be right for my business at the time. I might be bound by range review windows. I may only be able to list the product in October but you’ve come to see me in January.In terms of highly unsatisfactory meetings, I was always of the opinion that people deserve a chance. I would do my best to give people time, whatever it was. But I found that some salespeople would create barriers. They would put up their own barriers for entry — they don’t need to do that. A buyer would do that for you. Don’t create reasons to say “no”, yourself. I think, again, it’s about being appropriate, so if you’re looking at a discount retailer… you’re selling to a discount retailer, and you come with a jam that cost 12 pounds when all the other jams are 1 pound 50, you’ve not understand his business model, and it would be very, very easy for him to say, “That’s not right.”|
|Catherine Moran:||Sure. It’s really important for companies to remember as well that their product —or they might have a couple of products that they’re going to see you about — to remember that they’re simply (not a cog in a wheel) but they’re simply one of many, and from your point of view as the buyer you’ve got a whole category that you’re looking after. It’s probably really important, isn’t it, that they see the bigger picture in terms of what you’re responsibilities are.|
|Northern Munkee:||Yeah, absolutely. You can’t research that sort of information because every company is different, every buyer is different in terms how they approach what they’re trying to achieve. Most people, certainly in our industry, enjoy talking, enjoy talking about what they do so if you ask them the right questions, and again this is down to preparation, if you ask them the right questions you’ll understand where they’re coming from, where you might be able to fit in their strategy and help them achieve what they’re trying to achieve. I suppose it’s difficult from a single supplier’s perspective to understand why doesn’t this work for you. If you ask the right questions you’ll find that out.|
|Catherine Moran:||Actually I noticed on your blog, your blog is NorthernMunkeeBites.wordpress.com I think?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes, that’s right.|
|Catherine Moran:||On a couple of occasions I was quite struck by the way you said you need to basically keep your mouth shut a lot of the time but ask questions rather than rabbiting on, and ask intelligent questions and try and engage the buyer in that way. So that’s obviously a very good idea.|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. It’s one of the first things when I first started my sales training, I was asked a very simple question. What is selling? I went into a big spiel about needs, features and benefits and I was stopped very quickly: “No, selling is about asking questions, listening and understanding.”|
|Catherine Moran:||Sure, absolutely. Talking about asking questions and talking to buyers, can you think of three things that food or drink companies should never say to a buyer?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes I can. This is quite a subjective answer. I had a couple of bugbears around questions that I would commonly get asked. There are a couple of things that I took a disliking to, let’s say.The first one and probably the number one that I’d get asked on a regular basis that I found incredulous was “What margin do you want to make?”, which I think is great information to know, so if you can know that this margin is acceptable then you know what threshold you need to meet to get your product listed. If you say to a buyer, “What margin do you want to make?” They’ll tell you, “I want 70%”. Of course they do. I want as much as you’re going to give me. I think that information is absolutely appropriate but reframe the question: “What’s your typical margin within the category? If I was to say 20% is that acceptable for you?” You need the line in the sand rather than giving him carte blanche. That’s one of the things that I didn’t enjoy being asked. I would usually give quite a tongue in cheek answer back.|
|A couple of other things. One would be around times. If we had a follow up meeting and I was asking for a bit of information back, if I ever got told that they didn’t have time to come back to me, or if I say, “Look, can we get it back by Wednesday next week,” and he says, “No, I don’t have time to do that,” that’s not a great way to make a buyer feel special. It might be true, but again it’s just how you phrase it and how you make them feel special.|
|The third one was again a bugbear of mine when a salesperson used to say, “I’ll just have to check with the boss.” Or, “I’ll have to check with my accountant.” It made me feel like I didn’t have the right person in the room. If you’ve got a boss who’s ultimately making the decision then I need your boss here, not you. It might be true, but disguise that fact. You can always go away and buy more time and you might actually ask your boss, which is fine, but I wanted to think I was speaking to somebody… the person who is making the decisions. That was important to me.|
|Catherine Moran:||Absolutely. You always want to be talking to the decision maker.|
|Catherine Moran:||How flexible can buyers be in terms of — you were talking there about margins a second ago — how flexible can they be in their negotiating position in terms of things like margins and price points, payment terms? Can food and drink companies negotiate with buyers?|
|Northern Munkee:||The quick answer is yes. There will always be a “walk away” point on everything you mentioned. In my opinion and my experience, everything is negotiable. A lot of buyers will try to hide behind process, terms… payment terms is a great example. “It’s 30 days net a month and that’s it.” Well, no, it’s not it. Everything is negotiable. It’s very difficult to uncover exactly how far they’re willing to go. But if you know that each pot, if you like, is a negotiation stance, you can give a little in one and and take a little in another and it’s amazing how some salespeople get fixed on one line of negotiation. It’s all about price, it’s all about margin. There’s only going to be one winner there.|
|Yes, I think it’s difficult to say to what extent they’re flexible but I would say that they are being untruthful if they say they can’t negotiate on certain things.|
|Catherine Moran:||Okay. That’s interesting, because as you just said, it’s not just price that is up for grabs, or margin, there are so many other things as well that are important, like payment terms and distribution days. Other things like special offers or deals that companies would be willing to offer. It’s probably a matter of being very clear on what all the variables that you potentially could do a deal with, with the buyer, isn’t it?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. There’s something that it would be really easy for a buyer to do but would actually be really high value to a salesperson. Let’s take the mail-out for example. If I have five hundred stores and I have the email addresses of all those five hundred store managers, it doesn’t cost me anything to send an email to them all. Maybe costs me ten minutes of my time. To a salesperson that’s great. That’s communicating to five hundred people at once that would take you a long time to get around.There’s a number of things. It’s about asking the right questions and understanding what they can negotiate, and how far they’re willing to go on that point, banking that and moving on, I guess.|
|Catherine Moran:||Let’s assume now the product has been listed. Can we talk about how food and drink companies could maintain a good on-going relationship with their buyers? In other words, how can they keep buyers happy?|
|Northern Munkee:||Okay. This again comes back to being appropriate. As a supplier you want to be front of mind as much as you can. By that I mean if you check in every now and again, you’re not pestering, you’re not asking for too much of the buyer’s time, you’re just letting them know you’re there, you’re supporting… do they need anything? Then, if an opportunity arises — which the pace that the industry changes is phenomenal so these opportunities can come and go in a matter of a week — if you’re front of mind, and you’re being appropriate and supportive, then these opportunities might come your way.|
|I think it’s about checking in. Having regular but light contact, there’s nothing wrong that way. You’re not demanding any of their time. Just letting them know you’re there. Ask them how everything’s going. Ask them how much do you want to interact? Can we do it via email? Can we meet once a quarter? Once a month? If they feel like you understand how busy they are and how important your business is to their business, then it will marry quite well.|
|Catherine Moran:||That sounds very reasonable. What might be some reasons for products being delisted?|
|Northern Munkee:||There are a number of reasons. The number one reason should be performance-related. It can be very scientific, if the sales are below a certain threshold, then it’s thrown out of the range, which would make sense and I don’t think a supplier would begrudge anybody if the product wasn’t working.It could be the fact that a competitor has come in with a more catchy proposal and made the recommendation that their product replaces yours. It could be down to a category review. A lot of ranges in retail are seasonal. If it’s summer, you’ll have a lot more ice cream in the freezer, for example. If it’s winter, you’ll have a lot more ready meals in the freezer. It could be down to that.Right now, retailers seem to be going through a range rationalisation. So they’re looking at how they can drive the same level of business through fewer SKUs on shelf. The reason being that if they’re selling more of one SKU they should get a better price. Also, it makes a life a lot easier if they’re dealing with a few suppliers but still making the same money. There’s a number of reasons. If that happens to you or there’s a threat of that happening to you, it’s getting to asking why.|
|If it’s under performance, why is it not performing? Is it in the wrong place? Have we not promoted? Is something not happened that we thought would happen? There are a number of reasons. It might not be your fault it might not be anything you can control. If it is in your control you should understand it and try to fix it.|
|Catherine Moran:||I suppose the food or drink company will be getting sales reports, anyway, won’t they? They’ll be able to keep an eye on sales in various stores so they should spot trouble brewing.|
|Northern Munkee:||It would depend. Not all retailers are that sophisticated. In fact, a lot of retailers wouldn’t have a good level of sales data, for example. It might be a case of going round to stores and asking the store managers, going and having a look on shelves, see what it looks like. First and foremost asking the buyer, because there is a higher level of subjectivity because ultimately, it would be their decision. If he says, “I don’t think it’s working, therefore it’s coming out and being replaced by this.” That’s the perspective that you need to change.|
|Catherine Moran:||Once a product has been delisted does that mean that the bridge has been burned forever?|
|Northern Munkee:||Not in my opinion or experience. It would depend why.|
|Catherine Moran:||If it was performance-related, you’d have to prove somehow that you’d be able to get the performance up again, wouldn’t you? The sales up again?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. There’s a number of reasons. You could list the products too early. If it’s the product that’s on the cusp of a trend and you put it in a retailer that’s not on the cusp of the trend it won’t work. It might be that you should have gone to that retailer eighteen months later, and it would have lagged behind the trend, it would have been the right time for that retailer. In that case it would go and be delisted and it would it be right to go back because actually the market says it’s now time. In that scenario I would say bridges aren’t burnt.|
|If a supplier was to let you down with support, with product quality, with service levels, that’s a different story because that would remove my confidence in them, not the product.|
|Catherine Moran:||They’re then a hassle to deal with, aren’t they? Which isn’t good, is never good. Absolutely fascinating. With your buyer’s hat on then, have you noticed any areas of weakness common to food or drink companies? For example, understanding of margin, mark-up or their understanding of price point. The scarcity of shelf space, things like that.|
|Northern Munkee:||I think there’s an element of all those things you’ve mentioned. I don’t think that’s the main culprit, the answers to all those things in terms of understanding can be gleaned back by asking. I think that, for me, was my number one frustration, when someone didn’t take the time to understand me or my business. There may be a knowledge gap in terms of if I’m a wholesaler, how many margins I need to take into account versus a retailer. There may be a knowledge gap. For me it’s more about understanding the business and making sure that when I go and present to that business that my product is right for them and I’m selling to them and not just a generic sales desk.|
|I think understanding mark up and margin is understanding it by channel, as well. A lot of artisan suppliers would start off in the specialty channel. They would start with farm shops and delis for example, who are quite margin greedy, they can get away with charging higher price points. If you were to go and offer a mainstream retailer the same margins, you were to offer a farm shop, I think they’d take it all day long but you’d be giving away a lot. That’s because the price points need to be keener in mainstream retailers than they do in specialist outlets.|
|Catherine Moran:||Because there’s more competition?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely, right. Yeah. Farm shops can sell a bag of crisps for 6 pounds if it’s the right quality and make 50% margin. That wouldn’t work in Tesco, for example. They’d have to set the lower margin but need the better price point to sell the right level of volume.|
|Catherine Moran:||Actually, which reminds me, I meant to ask you a few minutes ago you mentioned SKU. That abbreviates Stock Keeping Unit doesn’t it?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes it does.|
|Catherine Moran:||What is that basically? I’m asking not just for myself but for listeners as well.|
|Northern Munkee:||An SKU, Stock Keeping Unit, is an item. One item, just abbreviates SKU. Jargon there.|
|Catherine Moran:||Okay, it’s an item. Have you ever regretted deciding to not list a product that went on to become either a wild commercial success or a commercial success?|
|Northern Munkee:||Thankfully not, no. I think part of that is I would always leave the door open. I was never arrogant enough to say, “this my opinion now, this is my decision now, it won’t change.” The way that the market changes you can’t say that. Thankfully not. There have been scenarios where someone has come to see me, I’ve said no, it’s just not been right at the time. They’ve come back six months later and listed it. Those happen. So thankfully by leaving the door open I’ve never made that regrettable decision.|
|Catherine Moran:||I suppose the market is very dynamic and it seems to be really extra dynamic at the moment in terms of new things happening, new products and flavours and formats and everything.|
|Northern Munkee:||Yeah. I think it’s really opening up. I think as we’ve come out of the recession, a lot of the huge manufacturing… a lot of the big suppliers have bought each other out, so we’ve got fewer of the bigger suppliers, which means that because they’re such big companies they can’t react to trends. As a consumer, as a shopper, we’ve got more money, we want to try new things, we want to find better value for the money we’re spending by eating different foods and better foods. That role can’t be fulfilled by big companies because they’re not flexible enough. Little companies are able to get in there and develop and react to trends which then encourages others to do so and it just bubbles up the market. It’s brilliant at the moment.|
|Catherine Moran:||In terms of new products, how do buyers discover new products?|
|Northern Munkee:||There’s a number of ways that you can do your research as a buyer. I suppose the emphasis that I’ve been giving is that the salespeople visiting buyers need to do the preparation, well the same is true the other way around. If I was sat with a supplier that was seen to be experts in that category I want to also be an expert in that category. I have to be constantly on the internet looking through trade press, out in stores, in my own stores, in competitor’s stores. I’ll ask colleagues. If there’s a buyer in the same position in another business I’ll give him a call, have that relationship. It’s just keeping your eyes and ears open.|
|I personally used to go around a lot of farm shops. I’ll go to a lot of foodie festivals, I’d go to a lot of delis. They weren’t always appropriate for the retailer I worked for. It would let me see what trends are coming through. Eventually, you’d see some of these products creep into mainstream retail and that’s when I’d be ready to go and speak to those people. It wasn’t always that people would come to me. I would approach some of these smaller suppliers and say “I want you to come and see me, please.” I would be as proactive as I could to be to be on the front foot.|
|Catherine Moran:||Okay. That’s fairly unusual, I think, getting buyers approaching companies.|
|Northern Munkee:||It is, yeah. I think a lot, certainly smaller suppliers, would bite your hand off, but for a lot of retailers they want to differentiate and they want to drive loyalty by saying — let’s take the big four for example — “Why should I shop in Asda when it’s exactly the same as the other retailers, they’re all stocking exactly the same products.” In that case it doesn’t matter to me where I shop. However, if I can only get this certain brand of a certain type of product in that one retailer and I love it, then I can only go to that one retailer. Having that point of difference is key and it’s the way to have loyalty, which a lot of retailers are aware of. It’s not easy to achieve but a lot of them want to try and achieve it.|
|Catherine Moran:||It’s not easy for food and drink companies to achieve either. It’s a sort of holy grail for them as well.|
|Catherine Moran:||Northern Munkee, I think I’ve asked you all the questions I wanted to ask. Thank you very much indeed.|
|Northern Munkee:||Thanks very much.|
|Catherine Moran:||Before we sign off would you tell us a little bit about your blog, which is Northern Munkee Bites?|
|Northern Munkee:||Absolutely. It’s something I started towards the back end of last year. I started off with an English degree, so I really enjoy writing. I’m really enjoying the movement within the food industry at the moment and so it’s just about marrying the two.Some if it’s a bit of a stream of consciousness so I apologise for that but it’s my passion, it’s what I enjoy. I think the difference with my blog and what I’m trying to achieve is that I review things and look at things with my buyer’s hat on.I’ll try and give some insight as to why there’s so many peanut butters coming through. Why there are so many veg crisps coming through, for example. I look at the category information, where it fits, what the trends look like. I’ll review it as if I was still buying. So, what does the packaging look like, what’s the price point like, how does that fit with the competition. Flavour, and description of flavours are really important because if it doesn’t taste good then it’s not going to sell. I try and look at it holistically. Rather than some other food bloggers that do a brilliant job of describing the food and the cooking methods, I try to look at it a little more commercially. That’s what I’m trying to achieve. I’m really enjoying doing so and being sent brilliant products to review is fantastic.|
|Catherine Moran:||I can imagine and of course it’s keeping you in the loop as well with new product development isn’t it?|
|Northern Munkee:||It’s really exciting seeing the new trends coming through. I’m trying not to specialise in one area but there seems to be a few things like biltong I keep getting sent and asked to review, which is brilliant. I love it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the people sending that. I’ll try and keep a broad understanding of the whole food and drink industry. It’s brilliant.|
|Catherine Moran:||You’ve got several posts there which are specifically about your experience as a buyer and it’s great insight to food and drink companies about what to expect during a meeting and what sort of questions to ask and how to prepare. I’ll put links to those particular posts in the show notes for this episode. They’re extremely well worth reading and they’re very to the point. There’s no waffle or anything. I’ll make sure that I’ve got links to those.|
|Northern Munkee:||Thank you very much.|
|Catherine Moran:||Not at all, it’s a pleasure. You’re on Twitter aren’t you?|
|Northern Munkee:||Yes I am, yes. I’m @NorthernMunkeeB on Twitter because I couldn’t fit Bites.|
|Catherine Moran:||It’s M-O-N-K-E-E isn’t it?|
|Catherine Moran:||Sorry. M-U-N-K-E-E. B. Again I’ll put your contact details, social media details in the show notes.|
|Northern Munkee:||Thank you.|
|Catherine Moran:||That’s fantastic. Thank you very much for your time.|
|Northern Munkee:||Okay, I enjoyed that thank you. Thank you very much.|
|Catherine Moran:||Take care. Bye bye.|
|Northern Munkee:||You too. Bye bye.|
I hope you found Northern Munkee’s insights on food and drink buying useful. Don’t forget to check out his blog at www.northernmunkeebites.wordpress.com, and he’s on Twitter as @NorthernMunkeeB.
All links mentioned in the show are available at the show’s website, which is myartisanbusiness.com. You can also download a free transcript of the show there. To get updates on when I publish new episodes of the show, subscribe to my email list at myartisanbusiness.com and I’ll let you know when new episodes are live.
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That’s all for this episode. You can find me on Twitter as @FoodDrinkShow so please do get in touch if you have any comments or questions.
Until next time, I’m Catherine Moran, happy cooking, happy brewing, happy fermenting and thank you for listening.