New suppliers are kept out by buyers but it should be an open invitation

How is it that Waitrose has captured the market in being approachable to new suppliers? It gets the true innovation to market first every time. Even though the big four desperately need to differentiate, getting a meeting with any one of them requires you to be a savvy experienced supplier. These established suppliers recycle the status quo, not create true innovation, yet the bright young businesses can’t get through the door.

In recruitment there is a standard format for the CV. There is also a standard managed process for university applications. But in grocery there’s no set way to get your product through to a fair hearing by the buyer. New suppliers whose background is outside of the industry don’t understand about creating a customer benefit story, clarity on the source of business and a promotional strategy. Little do they know how far from correct their pitch is – they can’t even find out who the buying contact is! I have been through the online guidance process offered by some of the retailers’ own websites and suffice to say those portals are poor, too.

To compound this issue, it’s the worst time to be approaching retailers with new distribution, just as the range counts are being cut. While buyers love the kudos of being the first to find new innovators, whole teams are being disbanded and buyers’ remits are exploding. They get hit by hundreds of random attention-grabbing poor pitches and resort to the easy option: just saying “no, we are happy with our range at the moment”. The attitude that ‘if it’s good enough it will work its way through’ relies on huge tenacity from the impoverished and frustrated innovator – many of whom don’t want to dress up as a cow and hang around in the car park to doorstep the buyer.

Yes, there are commendable hotlines for newbie suppliers, but they only work to guide the suppliers after listing. Tesco’s ‘BackIt’ scheme appears to help them to get funding with a possible place at the front of the queue to meet the buyer. That may help but why not go further? Create a new role for a senior buyer to sift through and meet new suppliers across all categories. It’s a huge opportunity for the one that chooses to grab this mantle from Waitrose.

Sentinel Management Consultants deliver sales, negotiation, planning and finance training courses for our clients worldwide.