The former Superquinn supremo on where to place your products and the importance of labelling and branding.
Question: I produce my own food product and while I am very busy supplying small local shops and small cafés I don't have very much sales to show for it. I also find there are not enough hours in the week and I am not sure about how to grow the business. Can you advise me on where I am going wrong?
Feargal replies: It is difficult to know exactly why the model isn't working and perhaps I could start by asking questions. In answering these it might help you to get greater clarity. Is there anything wrong with the product which is related to rate of sale per shop/café that would suggest the customer is not embracing it? Have you avoided big retailers, speciality shops and larger restaurants/hotels? Are you focused on the wrong part of the market?
Many early-stage businesses talk about being so grateful for any business that buys their product and that they are happy to take on board new accounts without any question.
Typically these same businesses will say that after being in business for a number of years they learn to be more selective about where they place their product, and in particular prioritise those types of establishments where they have learned that their rate of sale is much higher. It may sound crazy, but perhaps you are better to walk away from some of those smaller accounts if they are never going to be viable.
You might also question whether your own time is being put to best use. I would suggest that a number of hours spent trying to secure business with a large specialist retailer who would have potential volume sales for your product might be a better use of your time. It sounds like you are caught on a treadmill running faster and faster to effectively stand still. This is not good for you or the business and you must break that cycle. This might be a good time to approach your Local Enterprise Office and ask for a mentor.
This might also be a good opportunity to get consumer input into your product in terms of the packaging, price points and suitability for your target market. The best advice is stand back and review everything as there may be an easier solution waiting for you.
Question: I have a simple label on my food product which contains the minimal amount of information. I've been advised to create a proper brand and get more info onto the product. I don't understand what I should be doing.
Feargal replies: Thank you for your email and the attached photograph of your label. For the purposes of the readers you have a basic white label with the name of the product and other legal requirements like the weight of the product and your address, etc.
While a label like this is perfect for selling at a farmers' market, you will find it very difficult for a label like this to communicate with the consumer in the wider retail environment. The problem is that while you are with the product selling it directly, you have every opportunity to tell customers about why it is unique, who made it and why they should buy it. Once it goes onto the shelves of somebody else's shop it has to compete and this requires a new approach.
Early-stage producers often feel they are saving money by not spending money on their branding, but very quickly realise when they are not getting sales that branding and packaging are all important.
Go and talk to a number of branding companies and probe them about how they might approach the project and what their cost might be.
Give them all the same brief and meet each one to access how they would handle the work, and then choose the one most appropriate. Certainly don't just take the cheapest. You need to make sure that you are going to get the best job done.
What I find is often missing from packaging is a story about the product or the producer. Many early-stage producers have a fantastic story but fail to communicate this on-pack which leaves their product looking the same as any other.
If the customer doesn't understand why you are different, you can have the best product in the world but get very little sales for it if that connection isn't present.
Part of your job as a producer is to be a master of communication in packaging and branding, but also your PR and digital media. I have no doubt you have a great product. You now need to tell the world about it.
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