Reap the research rewards…

My new series of blogs offering a peek behind the curtain of the mind of a Retail Buyer focuses on how to add value to your product presentation.

This is the second blog in the series and will focus on market data and research. So I can hear some eye rolls already but believe me, this is really important and it’s something that artisan producers just don’t do; so if you’re on board you’ll be moving to the top of the class!

Ok, so I do appreciate that most artisan businesses don’t have access to huge budgets and even if they do they don’t really want to be spending a large chunk of it on expensive taste tests, consumer panels and research. So how should you go about it? Well, in my opinion, artisan producers are in the perfect position to do it on the cheap. So you’re attending the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh this year with an anticipated footfall of around 25,000 people and you’re sampling your products. Let’s assume you manage to sample to just 10% of the total footfall and you ask everyone that tries a sample one question: ‘what do you think? Marks out of ten.’ You make a quick score and tot them up when you get a spare moment to get your average score. Now you’re in a position to go to a buyer and tell them that you sampled your product directly to your target market and the average score was 9.3 out of 10.

You can also say that you’ve advertised your brand to 25,000 early adopting foodies. If you wanted to go one step further you could even have a questionnaire on your stand that asks your samplers to rate the product versus their normal purchases. Here you can explore more in depth opportunities. When you’re constructing your questions put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a moment and think about what data will allow an objective decision? Just imagine how powerful something like ‘70% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to trade up from their usual purchase because they loved the product’s quality, provenance and branding’ would be. Don’t underestimate how important this direct feedback is; anytime you’re getting someone to interact with your product or brand then you should be taking advantage.

A buyer would never expect an artisan supplier to act like a large blue-chip business. However if you’re adding value to your presentation by substantiating features and developing them into tangible benefits then you’re helping to facilitate a buying decision.

Northern Munkee.


Check out my mantlepiece!

It’s award season for the food industry with some iconic award processes already underway. This blog is looking at how relevant the awards are and if it’s important from a Buyer’s perspective that a product carries an industry recognised award.

So, you’re an artisan producer and you’re just starting out. You’re really happy with the product, friends and family think it’s incredible and your confidence is starting to build from sales in farm shops, at food fairs and even online. Now you need to start to think a little bit about marketing. It’s a scary thought; spending some of the money you’ve worked so hard to earn when there isn’t a tangible return on investment. Naturally you want your product to stand out. You want to give people a reason to pick it up and buy it.

So you reach the conclusion that your product needs an award, a badge of honour, a mark of trust; but which one? will it demonstrate an appropriate return on investment? will people care? These are all the right questions to be asking if you’re going to spend some of your hard earned cash but I want to consider this from a buyer’s perspective and discuss whether it’s important to a buyer.

Firstly, to answer the question of whether awards are important: the quick answer is yes. Awards are like a Masters degree for a job candidate, they’re not essential but they are important and they’re certainly not a deal breaker. What awards demonstrate to a buyer is that your product has credibility and it has been independently supported. You can tell a buyer how amazing your product is until you’re blue in the face but it’s your baby, you wouldn’t ever call it ugly even if it looked like a thumb! It also tells a buyer that your product delivers against expectations. A lot of awards are designed to assess a product’s suitability based on packaging and description.

OK, so which award should you go for? Well, there is a whole plethora of options to choose from so select carefully. The Great Taste Award is fast becoming the best-known and most subscribed to award for producers large and small. It is even beginning to resonnate with consumers as a recognisable brand in its own right so I would definitely be recommending that one – and it doesn’t break the bank. I would also advise that you enter any free award; there are a number of them out there and why wouldn’t you? Other than that it’s just about picking the right award firstly, that’s right for your product and seconly, that’s right for the person you’re wanting to sell to. If you’re focussing on a food service audience I wouldn’t be pushing the Farm Shop and Deli Awards. In my experience the most noteworthy awards that is recognised by buyers as a true mark of quality are The Grocer magainze’s awards. I would suggest getting a couple of years under your belt before attempting this one but it will make retail buyers pay attention.

I would give one word of warning when it comes to awards and that’s to be wary of the fate of Narcissus. It’s very easy to go overboard and spend a whole year’s marketing budget on accolades and ego-massaging trinkets but it’s really difficult to show a real return from awards. Whilst they do add value they certainly shouldn’t be the sole focus of your brand and marketing plans.

So, in summary…go get awards and be proud of what you’ve achieved. If nothing more it will give you more to talk about when you’re discussing features and benefits.

Northern Munkee.

Pipped to the Post!

Product Review: Pip & Nut

So it’s official. I’m an addict, but that’s ok right? The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem…but my problem is I don’t want to admit, not yet. Hi, my name is Northern Munkee and I’m a Nut Butter Nutter.

Not much has changed in the market place since my peanut butter series but this blog opens up something completely new to the category: on-the-go.

On-the-go is a very trendy category and it’s one that a lot of suppliers and retailers are desperate to get right. The beauty is that the on-the-go category is so expansive and subjective. What is it? It’s impulse, it’s snacking, it’s portion-control, it’s portable, it’s handheld, it’s over-priced, it’s…not easy to define. What this shows is a shift in eating habits that started in the early 90s and is driven by our time poor society. Take breakfast for example. When I was growing up breakfast was a meal taken at the table or at worst in front of the TV but I was definitely sat down. It wasn’t a chilled, oaty, yoghurt drink gulped down as I’m reminded to ‘Mind the Gap’ as I alight the tube! This movement in the breakfast category has been a long time coming with breakfast bars first introduced with Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain in 1996. The category has developed since then but the pace has really picked up in the last 5 years and handheld is certainly the present and almost certainly the future!

One issue this does present is competition. All of a sudden, as a supplier, you’re not just looking left and right at competitors within your category. You’re now watching your back from, well, almost anyone; even nut butter manufacturers brands…

I’m going to assess the Squeeze Packs in their own little review at the bottom of this, just to make sure I do them justice!

Rating: 9.8/10

Appeals to: nutbutter nutters, peanut fans, those against boring toast


This is spot on. The most obvious thing about the packaging is that the brand values and personality shines through. It’s fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously which will really appeal to the excited generation of nutbutter nutters.


£2.29 (250g Jar) – this is actually really reasonable for the category and, potentially, undervalues the product slightly. However this price point does allow Pip & Nut to establish itself as a credible premium option and steal some share from the palm-oil loving Whole Earth.


So, what makes Pip & Nut different? Well it has the mark of quality that all good nutbutters should, the separation of the nut oil. It has familiar and appropriate flavours. But for me the thing that makes it stand out, and achieve the best score I’ve given so far as a blogger, is the consistency; it’s not smooth but it’s not crunchy. Your mouthful is interrupted just the right amount of times by variation in texture and nutty goodness.

Peanut Butter

This was brilliant. It had an initial creaminess presented by the nut oil that was embraced by a sticky, nutty aftertaste. I usually like my peanut butters a bit more crunchy than this but the taste was just superb.

Almond Butter

This butter is superb. It’s sweet but has a really rich texture so what it gives to peanut butter in terms of earthiness it makes up for in texture and creaminess.

Coconut and Almond Butter

These flavour combinations work perfectly well together. The oaty hit from the initial coconut flavours merge into a sweet almond paste that makes for a really light and delicate spread. This has to be my favourite of the bunch!

Honey Cinnamon Cashew Nut Butter

This jar delivers three layers of flavour. First you get a smooth sweet honey which builds in intensity as it passes onto a sweet, creamy cashew nut and the last out of the blocks is the light heat of cinnamon. What a brilliant creation.

Squeeze Packs

Quite simply brilliant. The flavour delivery was exactly the same as the jars. The packaging was absolutely appropriate to the audience and on-trend. This will appeal fantastically well to the main growth drivers of the nutbutter category: fitness fanatics. I think this is a very shrewd move by Pip & Nut and they’ve listened very closely to their customers and delivered a pack that’s more appropriate for their mission which is absolutely on-the-go. They’re priced at £0.99 RSP so, again, I believe that Pip & Nut are doing themselves a disservice here because the fitness category is expensive with protein bars commanding a premium price point. So if you’re a gym-goer, a cyclist, a runner or just one of those characters with all-the-gear-and-no-idea then you need to bin that Cyclone bar and pick up a Squeeze Pack!

Verdict – in a word, fantastic! The delivery on the nutbutters is fantastic but for me the real gem in this review is the squeeze packs. It’s absolutely bang on trend and what the category needs. I’m excited to see how the story develops with squeeze packs but I can only see it get bigger and bigger.


Northern Munkee.

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 7: What next?

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This is the final chapter in my mini-series offering a peek behind the curtain into the world of retail buying. This short insight will offer some advice on how to maintain that listing and develop the business. Getting it onto the shelf is easy for a Buyer to do but making it leap off the shelves isn’t so easy.

It’s really easy to get overexcited when the Buyer finally says ‘yes’ and think that’s the job done. It isn’t. In reality agreeing to a listing is relatively easy for a Buyer to do but if that’s all they do your product will just be another area for dust to gather in warehouses and stores. So to be successful and professional you need to have a plan and a strategy to pull that stock through the supply chain to create re-orders and really make the Buyer look good! I’ve compiled some simple tips that will help a artisanal manufacturer devise their pull strategy to maintain that listing and develop the business beyond a simple listing…

In it for the long run: you need to show at least a 12-month plan of how you’re going to support your product and your newest stockist with a clear promotional strategy focussing on key trigger periods.

All lined up: you should have an aligned sales plan that is supported with media, social media and events that you might be doing. If you’re going to be at a key food festival sampling near one of your new stores then tie it in.

Tell people about it: half the battle with getting your product off the shelves is about communication. Tell as many people about your new product as you can; that means the internal team at your customer’s offices and at a store level. Sampling campaigns are really effective. It also shows that you’re proud of what you do and not afraid to face the taste test.

It’s vitally important that you know exactly how your product is going to sell in terms of store numbers, pricing, promotions and communication tools. It will demonstrate to your Buyer that you’ve really understood their business and know what it takes to make a difference to their KPIs.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini-series. It’s just my perspective from how I approached meetings and listings with smaller suppliers. I used to really enjoy working with up and coming manufacturers, getting to know their stories and buzzing off their enthusiasm for what they do; it made a welcome change from the robotic regurgitations that I was subjected to from a lot of large suppliers.

The series has walked you through:

  • How to get a meeting
  • How to prepare
  • Understanding a Buyer’s motives
  • Structuring a Meeting
  • How to take control
  • How to always be relevant
  • How to maintain and develop the business

It has only been a whistle-stop tour as I can write and talk for hours on this subject. My final piece of advice to anyone wanting to crack mainstream retail with their brilliant new product is: go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?

Northern Munkee.


Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 6: So what?

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This blog considers the most important question of the whole process: so what? You can argue that there are much more pertinent questions in the meeting like ‘so when do you want your first order to arrive?’ However I believe ‘so what?’ is the one question that you should always have in your mind. Everything you discuss, present or ask should be working towards your desired objective so make sure anything you do is always proceeded by an internal ‘so what?’ Play your own Devil’s Advocate.

A bolshy Buyer will make this tip very easy and pose this question out loud each time they think you’ve stumbled across a pointless point. So prepare and pre-empt by asking the question yourself. You need to be constantly aware of what it means to the Buyer, how it will make their job better or easier and why it’s important that they continue to engage. I have experienced too many presentations with reams and reams of category information that only serves to act as a white noise and filler. I didn’t want to see it. Or may be I did but I was led to the right conclusion by an inept seller. There’s nothing worse than a boring presentation where you’re just watching the slide count drip away and the enthusiasm sneak out of the room in search of better things to do!

Pointless presentations: please please please avoid adding slides to your deck just to ‘add meat’ or ‘context’. It’s irrelevant. You might find that your Buyer takes a paper copy of your presentation as notes from the meeting and they’re going to re-visit it in a couple of months – will it still make sense when you’re not there to explain what the point of each slide was? Make it emphatic!

Questionable questions: think about your questions. You won’t be able to write a script because that’s not real life but you will be able to ensure that there’s always an answer to ‘so what?’ when you’ve uncovered a gem of information.

Confusion conclusion: never ever let your Buyer leave the meeting still thinking ‘so what?’ You want your Buyer being absolutely crystal clear on what you were there to achieve, what the key discussion points were and what the key action points are. Doubt and confusion can be like seagulls at the seaside: the first time you look there might just be a few white specks around a discarded tray of chips but in a short amount of time there will be a sea of white and the whole landscape is coloured with doubt and confusion. Chase those pesky seagulls away and don’t let the swarms get near your Buyer.

The next section of this series will assume you’ve got the listing and ask what next?

Northern Munkee.

Pink and Wight

Nut Butter Mini-Series: Pinks Foods

This is the final installment in my Nut Butter Mini-Series exploring various nut butter brands from brilliant producers around the UK. I am a nut butter nutter – I love the stuff! I can eat it straight from the jar with a spoon, on porridge, in a quick butty or as an ingredient in a fancy meal.

The nut butter market has exploded over the last couple of years and, alongside chocolate, is supporting the entire spreads market in the UK. In recent weeks a catastrophic shift has occurred in mainstream retail that signals how shoppers have shifted their buying habits as Whole Earth overtook Hain Celestial’s Sun-Pat in the nut butter rankings. Now, Whole Earth, isn’t the best example of this new trend as it does contain nasties but this news is a great dipstick into what the modern consumer is now demanding of the fixture.

So what’s driving this surging growth in nut lustings? Well it’s partly due to health connotations and the protein junkies; it’s also partly down to the purists seeking foods provided completely by Mother Earth and, as much as we may not like this fact, we can also thank our cousins across the pond who’s love affair with nut butters is a daily rendez-vous!

Right, enough of that! On with my review…

Product Review: Pinks Foods Peanut Butters

Rating: 7.5/10

Appeals to: this peanut butter has a really different taste to anything I’ve tried before so if you’re a nut butter nutter like me, you need to try it!


The packaging and branding is brilliant. The subtle line-drawn imagery oozes handmade qualities with a cheeky winged-orange for good measure!


£4.50– this is what I’d expect to pay for a hand milled nut butter. Caveat emptor need not apply here; you know you’re getting quality because you’re paying a good price.


The flavour profile really is intriguing. It doesn’t have the initial creaminess that seep through other nut butters and there is a strong taste of the peanut skin which creates this unique taste. The fact that this is milled into the product fortifies the nutritional value with increased antioxidants, phenolics and fibre. The product still carries a healthy layer of nut oil to smooth the path down the gullet but the eat is very different to the other brands in this mini-series.

Verdict – in a word, intriguing! As a nut butter nutter I love the subtle nuances in flavour differences that the production process of peanut butters can emit and this certainly is an individual example. So if you consider yourself to be nut nobility then you must try this!


Northern Munkee.

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 5: Take control!

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This part of my monthly mini-series is more about attitude than anything else. It is designed to induce confidence in a difficult situation. Sales people are taught that Buyers are always playing games, they always use tactics and they have the power in the room. This simply isn’t true. It is fair to say that there can be a balance of power in terms of size of businesses, who needs who more or who is under more pressure from their business; but at the end of the day there’s just two parties in the room, so let’s dance!

The reason that I felt it important to include a section on confidence and taking control is that I’ve been in a few awkward situations where the seller was almost waiting for permission to begin. They’d sit down opposite me, get out their pad, their pen and tablet computer and then…nothing. So dance monkey dance! If I was feeling that way out I’d just sit back, arms folded and let the silence engulf them. I know it sounds mean but come on! Don’t let this be you. You’ve called the meeting and the Buyer’s agreed to give you their time. They aren’t in the game of wasting time so they obviously want to hear what you’ve got to say so take the bull by both horns and drive.

Don’t be afraid: the expectation is that you take the lead. Set out your objectives and how you want the meeting to go when you first sit down. That way the Buyer is fully aware of what to expect and has the opportunity to add or subtract from proceedings if necessary.

Invite questions: questions are a good thing although it can really throw people. If a Buyer is asking questions it means they’re engaged it means they care. I remember asking a artisanal supplier ‘So what makes your product different to others? What makes it special?’ The suppliers looked really offended that I’d asked this. How could I? It’s their baby. Yes I get that but questions like this mean two things: firstly, that they hadn’t answered that so far in the meeting and secondly, that I’d just offered an opportunity for them to hit me with three or four strong USPs. Don’t be offended and don’t let it throw you off your flow. Pause. Acknowledge. Then deal with the question and be flattered that you’ve hooked an interest.

Never overpromise: a Buyer is trained to put unnatural pressure on you with anything from commercial demands to time pressures don’t succumb unless you’re comfortable. I used to hate suppliers missing deadlines, I found it rude. However I wouldn’t have any issue with someone coming back to me saying, ‘I can’t come back to you tomorrow. To get you the right answer I need a couple of days and will come back to you on Wednesday.’ That’s fine. The supplier had set my expectations and not rushed into anything that they can’t really deliver.

Next month’s issue will consider the most important question in the whole process…

Northern Munkee.

So what: