Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 1: Get My Attention!
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.
My first subject is all about engaging with the buyer, if you can crack this part you’re probably 50% of the way to getting a listing; but for that reason it’s not easy.
First thing’s first, do your research and find out who the right person is. Do a Google search, a LinkedIn search or ask around. Don’t just send it ‘FAO The Grocery Buyer’. I wouldn’t see anyone that couldn’t be bothered to do a little research. If you’re charming or persistent enough you might even get a receptionist or colleague to give away a name.
Buyers are all very busy, they don’t like having their time wasted. Grab their attention with your product. If you believe in what you’re selling then let it do the selling. Send in a smartly presented sample box with a one-pager on why I should give you 30mins of my time and a way to contact you.
Quickly follow this up with an email or a phone call but don’t leave it too long. My desk was always littered with samples and if it wasn’t important to me at the time I received it it was going to be less important when it goes out of date.
Finally: be appropriate. Understand what this buyer’s workload is like and how up their agenda you are likely to be. Once you make contact offer a wide range of dates to meet so they can be very selective.
Don’t give up the chase. It’s a fine line between being effective and bloody annoying but I remember one new supplier in particular would persistently call me each week and send more samples in every other week. I didn’t particularly want to see him but he wore me down and I agreed to meet him. When we met he was brilliant and I listed four lines there and then. So although I felt he was annoying he got the result he set out to achieve.
I can’t emphasize how difficult this part of the sales call is and therefore it’s really important to have a structured and well thought out approach. It’s really easy for a buyer to ignore an email, screen a phone call or just say no. Make them feel like their missing out and you’re going to make their decision a really easy one when you get there.
Northern Munkee

Following ‘The Crowd’…

Crowd funding is a phenomenon that’s taking the UK and the world by storm with more and more start-up food and drink businesses turning to ‘the Crowd’ to realise their growth ambitions. ‘But why now?’ I hear you ask; well let me attempt to explain my view on this.

Since the financial crash the UK food and drink market has presented two opportunities: one of consolidation and one of niche, reactionary opportunities. The consolidation end of the spectrum has seen the likes of Warren Buffet merge huge global enterprises increase the power held by market-leading business. This, in turn, has made big companies less agile and less able to react to emerging market trends which has allowed start-up companies to get a foothold in retail and meet the needs of the fickle consumer. This opportunity wouldn’t have been afforded to emerging businesses little over ten years ago as they would have been strategically strangled off supermarket fixtures by category powerhouses. One example of this can be seen in the Crisps and Snacks category in the UK with the rise of the premium popcorn sub-category led by Propercorn. Traditionally Walkers would have seen off the challenge to their market share in bullish fashion but the market shift has meant that the Leicester-based manufacturer had kept hold of their core products tightly and allowed Propercorn to own a sub-category and space on shelf. So the global financial shift has brought about more opportunities for fledgling businesses to flourish but why has crowd funding proven such a popular method of fuelling growth?

I believe that this method of fund raising offers more benefits to the entrepreneur and business than just hard cash. Crowd funding acts as a phenomenal marketing tool and a great way to get a large number of people to see your brand and business and have a vested interest in how you perform. Unlike Angel Investment, it provides a brilliant ‘shaggy dog’ story to talk to the press about if you’re successful. Unlike a bank loan, ‘the Crowd’ offers a cost-effective way of raising capital without it heavily impacting your bottom line. Finally, I believe crowd funding to be a success because it allows your Average Joe to feel like Duncan Bannatyne and play at Dragon’s Den without having to give away £200k of your children’s inheritance.

Crowd funding has raised over £115M in the UK in the last five years alone and is only set to increase as more start-up businesses exploit the multiple benefits it holds for them. There are some great opportunities for Food Adventurers to further explore their passion and get involved with a young business and potentially find the next Propercorn!

Here is just a couple of great Northern food and drink businesses that I’ve found who have chosen to turn to ‘the Crowd’ to further their journey:

Northern Munkee

Product Review: Punjaban Sauces

Review – Tamarind Curry Base [Punjaban]

Punjaban Curry Base - Label Front

Rating: 8/10

Appeals to: time-pressured foodies who want to serve a restaurant quality meal in less than half an hour and for less than £10


Packaging is so important for small producers and it really can be the difference between a great product working and a great product withering. Most small producers have a great story behind their food but most of them struggle to get that story, and their food, off the shelves.

Punjaban, meaning Punjabi lady, has opted for classically premium packaging with a mostly black label. I like the fact that they have featured Charlie, the creator, so heavily on the packaging as this is a great way to get people to buy into your mission. The label design is very simple but I do find it effective. The curry base is nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free but this isn’t over communicated on the packaging – which, for me, is a big plus. I have a real issue with food products whose main selling point is what isn’t in it; have some pride and tell me why your food tastes so amazing!

The fact that this product is a curry base, not a sauce or paste, may be lost on some users but the instructions are idiot-proof so this won’t be too much of an issue.

One potential miss from Punjaban is that they have opted to put their products in glass jars. I appreciate the fact that glass is much cheaper to buy in small runs than bespoke and innovative packaging but the Cooking Sauce category has left the glass jar behind and moved into (slightly) more exciting things like pouches, tubs and bags.


£2.50 is a reasonable price point for a handmade sauce and it does signal to the shopper that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill curry sauce. It certainly won’t break the bank when you add your recommended 650g of protein, a pilau rice and some appropriate breads.


Punjaban Curry Base - Cooking

This was very simple and took me less than 15 minutes to do, even with a couple of additions. I chose to fry my turkey in butter first, which is one of the options the directions gives. The aromas that hit me as soon as the base hit the hot pan were incredible. I could almost taste each individual spice used which you don’t expect from a jarred sauce. Once I’d followed the directions I chose to add a small handful of fresh coriander, not because the flavours were lacking but you can’t beat fresh herbs, and a spoonful of crème fraiche to soften the heat a little. I served the dish with a side of pilau rice and a small glass of Chenin-Blanc Voignier.


Punjaban Curry Base - Served

The flavours that came through from this curry were spot on. The first to swallow your taste buds was a deep tomato that sat beneath a crisp layer of spices that set in after your first chew. The heat wasn’t offensive but it lingered at the end of each mouthful to let you know it’s there. My only potential criticism is that it was a bit too ‘saucy’ and may be the extra water recommended in the instructions wasn’t required, however, as a regular curry eater, it should be a compliment that this was one meal that I didn’t want to end.

Verdict: In a word – brilliant. As a dish this worked fantastically well and I’d be proud to serve this at a dinner party and pretend that I’d spent all day searching for the right ingredients to produce an authentic Punjabi meal. This certainly represents a step up in terms of quality from the plethora of £1 curry sauces that adorn supermarket shelves. The only reason for docked points is that I question whether I’d pick this product up in the first place based on appearance alone. It’s not clear from the packaging that it houses a fantastic quality product. I have no doubt that once people try it they will clear their cupboards of any remnants of Uncle Ben’s curry sauces but what will encourage them to find this hidden gem?



Other variants: Bombay Potato, Hot Authentic, Medium Authentic, Mild Authentic, Naga Chilli, Butter Chicken and Keema.

Northern Munkee.