Investing in the Future of Food: Aloha CEO shares tips for securing shelf space, courting Trader Joe’s

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trader Joe's Aloha Retailers Marketing coronavirus Investing in the Future of Food

Waiting for a response from cold calls to retail buyers about placing a product on store shelves can feel demoralizing to emerging brands, but Brad Charron, the CEO of the plant-based bar and beverage brand Aloha, advises entrepreneurs not to take it personally and not to give up.

Based on his experience cold-calling Trader Joe’s for months to pitch the top-selling flavors of Aloha’s ​bars, which first appeared on the retailers’ shelves in April, Charron explains that persistence pays when building a new retailer relationship.

He adds in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​ that emerging brands can further increase their chances of getting on retailer shelves – even during the ongoing pandemic – by crafting a pitch from the buyer’s viewpoint, being ready to act quickly when they give the greenlight and then once a product launches driving velocity while also providing sufficient supply.

‘It was never giving up’

Charron acknowledges that this is a tall order for any retailer at any time, but he says it is especially important when courting Trader Joe’s, which favors private label and when it does partner with brands it does so only after a comprehensive, thoughtful and selective review.

“The Trader Joe’s Buying Group is thoughtful, thorough and very interested in well-designed partnerships from the onset,”​ and they have helped build incredible consumer loyalty for the products they stock – all without using the traditional levers employed by many other retailers, such as discounts or trade spend, Charron said. He added the simplicity of supplying product to the retailer which then sells it “is beautiful.”

However, waiting for any retailer to respond to a cold-call or thoroughly vet a brand before stocking it can feel “like dog years”​ to an entrepreneur, said Charron. But, he added, the reward is worth the wait and entrepreneurs should never give up or assume the worse when communication slows or pauses.

Charron explained that he sent unsolicited emails to a buyer at Trader Joe’s every week for more than three months, and while he hoped for a response, he didn’t expect one. So when, on his 14th​ try, he received a response back “graciously [offering] a 30 minute time horizon for me to call him on his direct line right before he headed home for the day,”​ Charron said he felt “like a record stopped.”

He explained: “I was on the phone and gave them three minutes saying why he should care and he ended it with ‘Can you send me samples?’ and I was like, ‘They are already on the way.”​  He emphasized that while buyers often have more time to give, entrepreneurs should be respectful and be able to cover the high points with clarity in just a few minutes.

After several weeks of “great conversation,”​ Charron said Trader Joe’s took time to thoroughly vet the brand behind the scenes to ensure it aligned with the retailer’s values. While necessary, Charron said he couldn’t help but doubt himself as he waited – something he encourages other entrepreneurs not to do.

After determining Aloha to be a good fit, Charron said both partners moved quickly to get the brand’s best-selling bar flavors on store shelves nationally.

“I believe they saw in a need. Plant-based food is growing as a subsegment, even in these challenging times … but not all plant-based is equal, and in terms of how we offer our products in terms of the macro-nutrients, the taste, the texture, the low sugar, the high protein – you name it. Even the brand speaks to this breath of life,”​ that all helped fill a white space in Trader Joe’s set, Charron explained.

‘Most buyers are risk-adverse … so you are trying to lay out a win-win scenario’

When trying to break onto any retailer’s shelf, Charron said brands need to carefully craft their pitch from the buyer’s perspective so it is a win-win for the retailer and the brand.

“You got to have benchmarks, and you have to have a point of view in terms of will you perform, because most buyers are risk adverse … they [prefer] lagging and present indicators as opposed to future indicators. I would do the same thing if I were them. So, you are trying to lay out win-win scenarios”​ that play to your brand’s strengths but also the retailer’s needs, Charron said.

He also advises entrepreneurs to be personal when they pitch buyers because “business is personal,”​ and if you have a real relationship it is more likely to weather hard times.

Drive velocity during the coronavirus pandemic

Traditionally the launch of a product at a new retailer is paired with promotions, in-store sampling and eye-catching displays, but Charron notes that during the pandemic those aren’t options – and so brands need to find new ways to drive trial and velocity.

He explained that Aloha is teaming with the snack box delivery service Snack Nation to deliver its products in some of its boxes to help driving trail and sampling.

By being creative, Charron says companies can still expect “great things” in 2020, but he cautions the victories won’t be won at the individual level. Rather they will come through teamwork and a mentality of helping each other to help the consumer.

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