Question: I run a bakery in the midlands and produce a good range of apple tarts, iced fairy cakes and muffins. I am keen to grow my business and I am looking for some advice on how I might get listed with multiple supermarkets.
Answer: I can almost taste those cakes here writing to you! What any food producer considering supplying the larger supermarkets needs to think about is whether your product is sufficiently different to attract their attention.
The buyers of the larger supermarkets are inundated with producers trying to secure listings. The key question they always ask is "Will this product bring something different to our shops?". No buyer is interested in a "me too" product.
I am sure your cakes are delicious but what you need to ask is, are they truly unique and have they the ability to get customers to travel to whatever retailers you are listed in just for your products. If you can achieve that, you are almost guaranteed listings.
Many of the supermarkets now have policies of regional listings where they will allow you to get listed in three or four supermarkets at local level, which also allows them to monitor how your product is performing.
Whatever you do, make sure you do plenty of research before you approach any of the supermarkets. Visit their shops, check out the competitors and identify what you are bringing to the table.
For example, you mention apple tarts, but what if these apple tarts were made from apples from your own orchard and made with an all-butter short-crust pastry. You are already creating a difference in the marketplace that will catch the attention of both the buyers and the consumers.
Finally, have confidence and be proud of what you have created. Get yourself some good packaging and develop a strong brand that will tell the story of why you are different.
I will be watching the shelves the next time I am in my local supermarket!
Question: I am producing a product which has enjoyed success over the last two years in the market. I am actively considering outsourcing the production of the product to a third party. Do you think this is a smart move?
Answer: It is great to hear that things are going well in these early years of the business. Many business owners I meet fail to recognise that it is highly unlikely they will be good at everything.
So, start by looking at all the key functions within the business and ask yourself the question "where do I and my team really excel?"
Is it the production process, the marketing and branding, the PR and public face of the business, the sales process, the financial aspects, etc?
Don't be surprised if either you don't have time to cover them all, or there are a number of functions that you excel at and others at which you are really not world class.
This exercise should help point you in the direction of outsourcing or not.
Clearly if outsourcing the product means it can be produced cheaper and more efficiently, at the same standard you specify, then that is worth considering. But there are safeguards you need to put in place if you are outsourcing a product, like confidentiality agreements, non-compete contracts and other steps to protect your product and brand.
The key question for you to ask in this process is "Where are you, as owner, adding value to the business". If that is not producing the product, then it sounds like you are on the right track, just make sure you put suitable safeguards into place.
Question: I run a butcher shop in Co Donegal. There are four other butcher shops in the town I am competing with. I am the only abattoir in the town and can source all my beef and lamb from three local farms. I also make my own sausages and black & white pudding. I am struggling with sales and am looking for some practical advice.
Answer: Thanks for your email and the photos you sent me of the shop. From looking at the photos, I think you have the best-kept secret in Co Donegal.
In other words, none of the signage and images throughout the shop tell the story of the wonderful work you are doing.
Customers would be really interested to know that you have full control over all the sourcing, that you have the only abattoir in the town that allows you to control the quality and that you have gone to so much trouble to ensure your product is the best in the market.
The first message is that you must become an expert at communicating.
One of the other things that I found in connection with the meat business in Superquinn was our butchers regularly told me that a significant amount of their time was spent giving customers cookery tips.
Recognising that many of them didn't have the knowledge to do this confidently, we embarked on a six month programme to send each of them to cookery school.
The results were instant, with the team having the confidence to proactively suggest cooking ideas to customers. Our customers loved it.
The other areas you could help to differentiate yourself in is by offering extra, small services that others don't think about.
Can you offer customers free bones for their dog and have good signage highlighting this? Can you offer to sharpen customers' knives on your sharpening stone?
Do you offer to pack meat for the freezer in separate bags and label each one? Could you offer to season free of charge every piece of meat a customer buys?
Of course, don't forget to combine all of these items with at least one value promotion each week.
That doesn't mean you have to lose money, it just means you have to plan ahead and identify where there is natural value in what you are selling and highlight it to potential consumers.