Retailing Your Products
Question: My customers have loved my empanadas for years. I think I am ready to sell them in stores. What do I need to know?
We have all seen the success famous chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck enjoyed making the transition from the restaurant kitchen to the retail shelf. What about the many sauces, chips, dressings, marinades, and frozen meal items that we see being offered by locally owned restaurateurs?
Tiffany Sunday of Dillon 5, a retail merchandising specialty group, tells me that this is a growing trend and that we will see more chef made products selling in grocery stores. She notes before any chef tries delivering his or her specialty item to their neighborhood store, he should follow four steps:
Conduct product category research. Learn about the uniqueness involved in the grocery industry, Visit the stores you think would be most likely to carry your product and meet with the grocery buyers. Listen to their advisement. Read supermarket news and research other on line industry reports to stay current on retail news and item sales trends.
Determine your target market. You may find that the retail customer might be different from the customer profile found in your restaurant. They may be attracted to the product you plan to sell for different reasons than you found in your restaurant. This knowledge will help with the merchandising, marketing and pricing decisions to come. Remember that each grocery market caters to specific customers, and there is a difference between displaying your product on a shelf at the neighborhood Safeway and Whole Foods. Properly determining your target customer is key to succeeding in the retail business.
Become a student of manufacturing, packaging and distribution. There are food safety guidelines involved in the proper manufacturing of products to be sold. Carol Lapin, nutritionist and principal at CSL nutrition services has had success in the area of product testing, nutrition analysis and product labeling. She tells me these three items must be done accurately in order to receive the required permits for distribution and retail sales. By testing your product early and often you are able to address issues or problems that can be created when converting recipes to large batches. It is recommended that you meet with distributors in order to learn the issues and requirements regarding packaging and pricing.
Test the market. Much like kitchen practice and server training before opening your restaurant, it is ever so important to test your product before distribution. Deliver samples wherever appropriate (retail grocers, farmers markets, restaurants and other local food events) and track comments. Be certain that the customers rating your product favorably match the target market you determined before going forward.
There is no doubt that restaurant products being sold in retail grocery stores can be done successfully and in doing so will broaden your brand awareness and increase the value of your business. But this isn't something to take lightly. Before delivering packages of frozen Empanadas to your favorite store, I suggest you visit with industry specialists, develop a reasonable timeline, create a budget and follow the process. I hope to someday find your empanadas on my grocer's shelf!