'If your product is specific to the Christmas market, then it is probably too late'
Q I am an early-stage food producer and want advice on how to get into the large supermarkets before Christmas as my product would suit the Christmas market.
A Generally speaking, the larger supermarket groups have a very structured decision-making process which can take many months, even up to a year to get a product on shelf. That can depend on many factors.
First of all, in a very large supermarket, there can be over 30,000 products and therefore they don't change the ranges frequently as it simply would be too much work. Do remember that there is no empty space on the shelf currently waiting for new products, so they have to get rid of something else to take your product.
That means a lengthy decision-making process that has to fit into a calendar.
If your product is very specific to the Christmas market, then it is probably too late for any of the big supermarkets as the decisions for Christmas listings were probably made in January or February.
My advice to you would be to talk with the symbol retailers first.
These are the shops in your neighbourhood which are locally owned and have the name of the local retailer over the door.
These symbol retailers have discretion to list products directly at local level which will allow you to move from shop to shop and get individual listings. While there are some downsides to the process, in that you will end up with dozens of customers to be invoiced etc, it is an easier first step for you and you will also learn the industry. The speciality shops are also a good source for early stage listings.
Your Local Enterprise Office will also have some good route to market programmes which really help you understand the best steps for you to take. Make enquiries about Food Starter and Food Academy programmes.
You will secure listings with the larger retailers but just start at a slightly slower pace which will actually benefit you in the medium term.
Q I recently tried to apply for an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher only to find out they are restricted to limited companies.
Is there another way for a sole trader to get support for innovation?
A I share your frustration. For most of the early stage businesses I have met, the majority start as sole traders and the general advice from their accountants is that the cost of becoming a limited company in the early stages is not worth doing.
That creates a bit of an anomaly. The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher scheme is designed to provide expertise to businesses who are in need of this, and ultimately the objective is to help them grow their businesses.
The limited company rule almost defeats the purpose of the objective. There is nothing we can do about that right now.
Talk to your Local Enterprise Office and explore the possibility to see if you would be eligible for a feasibility grant which might help, or even the priming grant mechanism, although some of those grants are only 50pc funded whereas the innovation voucher is worth €5000 and all you have to pay is the VAT. I know that the innovation voucher rule is frustrating and hopefully will change over time.
Send your small business questions to firstname.lastname@example.org