It takes a phenomenal product to make it onto the shelves at Whole Foods Market—but it takes more than that to get your brand flying off their shelves. On April 20, 2021 Whole Foods Market and Hot Bread Kitchen shared technical details and support to help small business owners optimize sales and ensure success. John Lawson, the Senior Regional Grocery Buyer for Whole Foods Market Northeast provided information tailored for local and emerging brands in the North East region, going in-depth on commonly asked questions and providing guidance for making the most of an opportunity with Whole Foods Market.
Marketing, Sampling and Social Media
Local Marketing: If you are producing locally in a region, you are eligible to be promoted with in-store signage and Whole Foods Markets does photoshoots annually. Contact your local representatives to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Guest Supplier Demos
- Staffed by a brand’s own team (W2 or 1099 employees, no third parties permitted)
- Scheduled through this portal 2-6 weeks before requested demo date*
- Includes use of folding guest cart
- Interactions Run Demos
- Executed by Interactions staff
- ROI reporting provided
- Includes use of WFM branded cart
- Scheduling currently available, contact demosWFM@InteractionsMarketing.com at least eight weeks before requested demo date
- Please be prepared to provide the below information: Current COI with the notated limits naming Interactions as covered, W-9 (Federal Tax ID #), Product information (UPC, size, etc.), Scheduling contact info, Billing contact info
- Rate Sheet: www.demosatwholefoodsmarket.com
- Demo Program Scheduling Portal: portal.demosystem.net
Social media is an addition and good alternative to in-person demos
- Do you know where (digitally) to find your target customer?
- Zoom – perform a remote demo
- YouTube – present a detailed narrative of the brand focusing on (for example) supply chain, production, &/or labor practices
- TikTok – make a quick, fun video that appeals to the youngest demographic
- Instagram – show a recipe from start to finish in less than a minute
- Facebook – start a conversation around the brand
- Twitter – communicate updates on the brand including new retail placement and promotions
- Sales Portal Reports: These are internal WFM reports, any brand with active sales can sign up. Must be checked regularly (weekly recommended)
- “Pull” Reports: These can be provided by distributor. Should break out order quantity by store by date. These can be matched up with Portal Reports to approximate sell-through
- Aggregated Reports: These are reports compiled by SPINS, Nielsen (WFM data aggregates with Nielsen). Shows macro level performance by brands. Can be used to identify trends or opportunities in the category or subcategory
Packaging + Placement
- Format is critical to category placement
- Pay close attention to customer reactions and trends:
- What callouts are customers looking for?
- Does a package clearly communicate & in correct/relevant order?
- Is the package legible? (Use high contrast colors!)
- Do not over-purchase packaging that will prevent quick changes (saving a dollar, but losing two)
- Price points
- Retail is an important piece of the branding
- TPRs should be timed to customer demand
- Easier to lower a price point than to increase one
- Category placement – is product placed correctly? (Ex: is it a sweet cracker, or a cookie?)
- Partnerships between brands
- Complementary relationships can be mutually beneficial (Ex: tortilla chip company sampling with salsa company)
- Demos, coupons, cross-merchandising
- Pivoting for COVID
- Revised retail landscape has created new hurdles, but also opened new opportunities
- COVID category shifts – for brands to consider: Single serve sales (drinks & snacks) are down – is multiserve an option? Comfort & familiar foods are up – can product pivot some focus to this? Immune boost / wellness is up – can product pivot focus to any relevant callouts?
Placement and Store Visits
Local products are approved according to geography. Regional products are assorted by planogram (based on set size, not geography)
- Local products are cut in by the teams, and teams have more discretion about carrying them
- Planogrammed products are placed according to schematic and placement is mandatory according to the planogram
Brands can visit Whole Foods Market stores!
- Check in at Customer Service and let them know you are there to check your brand on shelf. For your first time visiting, speak with Team Leader and ask to be intro’d to the correct Order Writer (Buyer) for the subteam.
- Samples are ok, make sure they are clearly marked as “sample product”
- Product can ONLY be sold for retail through authorized distribution – a brand should NEVER deliver any cases for retail sale outside of the authorized distribution
- Any disagreements should NOT be resolved on the sales floor – reach out to Regional contact with details if there is misunderstanding in the store
- Communication with retailers is key – proactive updates when issues occur build trust!
Brokers & Merchandisers
- Brokers support in multiple ways, including regional calls, handling paperwork (promotions & new item submissions), and some merchandising
- Merchandisers primarily work in the stores, supporting brands & teams on the sales floor by checking tags; packing out & rotating product; & generally overseeing brands on the floor through strong relationships with store teams
- Every brand has unique needs and should review what will work best before pursuing one or both support paths
- What is Whole Foods Northeast looking for? Consistency, focus, placement
- What are we looking at? Sales and growth (relative to category: is it a crowded category?)
Steps for Growth
Local –> Regional
- NE Geography/zones – is the product in correct constellation of stores? Manhattan (lower, midtown, upper); Brooklyn; Long Island; Westchester; Upstate; New Jersey; Connecticut
- Set & follow a consistent strategy: Promotions, In-store demos, social media
- Monitor Portal sales closely – set up, maintain, & report
- Pivots: Dial in packaging (design focus & callouts), establish optimal price point (everyday & promotional), correct category placement for the brand/product
Regional –> Global
- Consistent communication with home region (Regional Buyer)
- Has brand maxed potential in the home region (all stores, price point, stable growth & distribution)?
- Does production have realistic capacity to expand?
- Open up to additional regions or introduction for Global Launch?
- Price point
- Logical fit + natural growth
Whole Foods Market Grocery Product Categories
- Baking Meals Essentials categories (Baby, General Merch, Household Cleaners, Paper, Household Products, Misc Grocery, Entrees, Mixes, Global Flavors, Shelf Stable Condiments, Soups, Oils, Vinegars, Pasta, Pasta Sauce, Pickles, Olives, Peppers, Shelf Stable Vegetables, Baking Mixes & Ingredients, Seasonings, Sweeteners)
- Candy Snacks categories (Shelf Stable Dips, Salsa, Salty Snacks, Candy, Functional Snacks, Cookies, Nutrition Bars, Bulk, Crackers, Crispbreads, Fruit Spreads; Nut Butters; Shelf Stable Fruits; Packaged Beans, Grains, & Rice; Canned Meat & Seafood
- Dairy & Beverage categories (Yogurt, Kefir, Drinkable Yogurts, Dairy Desserts, Milk, Milk Products, Eggs, Refrigerated Condiments, Dairy Fermented, Fresh Convenience, Plant-based Milk, Cheese & Protein; Dairy Dips; Dairy Flatbreads, Refrigerated Juice, Functional Beverage, Coffee & Tea; RTD Coffee, Water, Shelf Stable Juice, Shelf Stable Functional Bev, Sodas & Sparkling Juices, RTD Teas, Cocktails & Drink Mixes, Plant-based Water)
- Frozen & Breakfast categories (Frozen & Ambient Bread, Frozen Breakfast, Packaged Coffee, Packaged Tea, Frozen Fruit & Vegetables, Ice, Pizza, Wholesome Bars & Snacks, Cold Cereal, Hot Cereal, Shelf Stable Milk Frozen Desserts, Frozen Entrees, Frozen Plant-based Protein)