“There's a number of best practices that really help set you up for success across any major retailer. And what's really pivotal about these retailers is any one of these can be key on activating your business nationally with UNFI or KeHe, which in turn unlocks a lot of smaller independent or regional chain accounts,” said Rob Browning, director of strategic accounts at brokerage service company Presence Marketing.
From Whole Foods to Fresh Thyme Market: Understanding the specifics
Each natural retailer has different requirements for CPG brands to get and stay on the shelf, which can include everything from meeting specific glyphosate standards to addressing an unmet need, Browning said.
During the webinar, Browning broke down what four of the biggest natural retailers look for and how to grow within their stores, including:
- Whole Foods Markets: CPG brands launching into Whole Foods need to put “the foot on the gas" to drive velocity because Whole Foods Markets reviews products every six months, and if a brand hasn’t proven that they can sell, they jeopardize losing their shelf space, Browning said.
- Sprouts: Sprouts is “interested in innovation, [and] ... is particularly interested in having a differentiated product assortment compared to other retailers out there, especially other conventional retailers,” he said. Brands can find information about Sprouts' submission process, including review schedule, policies, and quality standards, from a new vendors page on the Sprouts website, he added.
- Natural Grocers: CPG brands must meet Natural Grocers' strict ingredient standards and have the documentation. “When you're getting ready to submit to them you really need to make sure that you have all your certifications lined up. They require a non-GMO certification or non-GMO letter of guarantee,” he added. When submitting new products, Natural Grocers requires brands fill out a new item submission form, provide ingredient panels and certifications, and sends samples when requested. These products will then be submitted to Natural Grocers' New Item Committee for placement consideration, he added.
- Fresh Thyme Market: Fresh Thyme Market takes both virtual and in-person meetings to discuss placement and has an open calendar for new innovation and brands, Browning said. "Category managers start doing their assortment work about four to six months ahead of the reset," he added.
Leaning into innovation, not forgetting omnichannel
For a brand perspective, CEO and founder of frozen food brand Mason Dixie Foods, Ayeshah Abuelhiga, and director of sales for gluten-free snack brand Enjoy Life Foods, Dawn Niderno, shared what it takes to succeed in these natural retailers.
To develop Mason Dixie Foods' presence at Whole Foods and Sprouts, Abuelhiga said she leaned into “what they're asking for and what they're seeing is trends because they do know their categories best." Mason Dixie Foods “constantly works on co-innovation for both its retail presence in Whole Foods and Sprouts," she added.
“Partnerships with [these natural retailers] are integral, and I also think from a brand-building standpoint, it's the best place that you can really develop an emerging brand period. You've got the best consumers who are super accepting, who really buy into all the benefits of being natural but on top of that are willing to try new things.”
To succeed in a retailer like Whole Foods, Niderno recommends omnichannel promotions, including in-store activities as well as digital experiences, like shopping online or through an app, Niderno said.
"We're also doing a lot of their other programs when we launch a new item with Whole Foods. You want to support that with anything you can to really draw the consumer into your product and raise awareness, so those sampling and demo programs,” Niderno said. "They give you a certain amount of time, and they're really watching what your products are doing. So, you want to make sure you're supporting [them with] programs."