The team has its work cut out for it, but it is making in-roads with up-and-coming brands by tackling head-on many of the myths that intimidate entrepreneurs, such as the notion a product must launch in 4,000 stores or be 100% ready to go to market before talking to Walmart.
In this episode of Investing in the Future of Food, a buyer for Walmart shares why it is a good fit for startups, and the founder of the better-for-you frozen pizza Caulipower shares how teaming with Walmart early helped her brand quickly rise through the ranks to become one of the top 10 frozen pizza brands in the nation.
Walmart meets startups where they are
The sheer size of Walmart’s reach frightens away many entrepreneurs, but it shouldn’t, according to Mary Semon, a Walmart buyer for frozen new lifestyle meals.
She explained at NOSH Live in New York City earlier this month that not every brand needs to launch in all of Walmart’s stores at once.
“We have the ability, you can launch in 10 stores. You can launch in 4,000, but what is really important is we want to be successful for you,” she said, adding, this might mean having a quarterly or semi-annual meetings to adjust the store count or geography for a product to maximize its potential.
Walmart also is trying to make it as easy as possible for entrepreneurs to connect with it by debunking the myth that startups need to have all the answers before they reach out to the retailer.
Startups and emerging brands interested in connecting with Walmart can simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and answering a few questions. There is no need to have a broker or all the answers, Semon said.
Better-for-you brands can thrive at Walmart
Another misconception that deters some entrepreneurs from approaching Walmart is the idea that emerging or better-for-you brands won’t resonate with the retailer’s consumers. But as Semon points out, 90% of US households have shopped at Walmart at least once in the past year, 66% have shopped there in the past month and 80 million households shop there every week on average.
“Every customer is at Walmart. There is nothing that says Walmart is only Twinkies. Walmart can be keto crackers, grain free anything. It is everything and in between,” Semon said.
For support, she pointed to the success of the better-for-you frozen pizza line from Caulipower, which uses a cauliflower-based crust.
Going against the advice of many others, Caulipower’s founder Gail Becker teamed up with Walmart early after the company launched, which she says is one of the best business decisions she made.
She explained one of the main reasons she launched Caulipower was because she wanted to make nutritious, convenient food available nationwide – not just on the coasts – and Walmart allowed her to do that.
Becker also notes that she decided to work with Walmart because her buyer made her feel comfortable and confident that should could meet the retailers’ needs. She also notes that Walmart helped her in unexpected ways that could have been make or break for a young company.
“There were issues along the way, and difficult problems to navigate, and you know what? Walmart helped me every step of the way. They came to my side and they helped me, and you don’t forget that as a small company,” she said.
For example, she noted, Walmart helped her without her asking to safely navigate a financial review and the need for a certain credit score. She explained that as a young company it wasn’t that her credit score was bad or good – she simply didn’t have one.
“That is really why I feel very beholden to making it a successful partnership,” she added.
While Gail succeeded despite bucking common advice about where to market her products, she advises entrepreneurs to think carefully about whether a retailer is a good fit for their brand before partnering.
“The first thing you need to know is you need to know the retailer. Before you go into any meeting, you need to walk the floors of that retailer and make sure you can see your product there,” and if you can’t or if something else feels ‘off’ then it is okay to walk away, she said.