The Secret To Getting Into Whole Foods

** I originally posted this essay on our business blog last week, but I thought you’d like to read it. It applies to more than just people in the food business. **
For the last five years, I have watched many clients grow their new businesses. Each one has a different path to take on the road to a common goal: Getting ‘into’ Whole Foods.

Think of Whole Foods as a metaphor for ‘a large, wholesale account.’ Not every client’s story is about Whole Foods, but, for all intents and purposes, the idea of selling yourself to Target or Shop-rite is the same.

Some focus on landing the ‘big fish’ right away, some take a mixed approach, and others direct their early efforts solely towards smaller growth.

Some have retail locations, others work out of homes or shared kitchens. Some have backgrounds in food or operations, others have recently departed white-collar careers, and a handful are taking their first step into business altogether.

Some have no money beyond their personal checking account and their weekly sales income from a farmer’s market, and others have venture capital firms backing them.

Some will spend months or years working one local store via demos and table sales; others get to pitch at a regional or national meeting because they know someone, capitalized on an opportunity, or got lucky.

The secret, the best single piece of advice I can give you for success, is to always remember why you started this business, and to never waver from that principle.

“What?!? You just made me read this whole article for that?!?”

I’m not pulling your chain, this is serious. It is very, very easy to compromise your brand along the way.

Everybody wants something from you. They want you to lower your price. They want to retail for $4.99 what sells everywhere else for $6.49. Do it if you can, but not if you have to change the way it tastes. That’s not what got you in the door.

Lowering cost might be possible if you quadruple the amount of ingredients you purchase. DO NOT do that if you have no way to fund it. Preferably through actual sales, not a line of credit.

If you’ve taken on a VC partner, they get a cut too, and likely a seat on your board. Just remember who started the business and who has it’s core interests at heart.

If they ‘put’ you into their distributor, you must hold the reins on your own business. Very quickly and without warning the distributor can feel or act like they own you. Are they paying you on time? Are they dedicating a sincere effort to make sure your product is in the right place on the shelf? What page of their catalog are you on? Are you just 1 of 1000 SKU’s in a salesman’s little binder – who only visits the stores once in a while?

Compromise is necessary, but draw your own absolute bottom line before you step into any of these meetings. What is your lowest possible price? How many units can you produce in a day? What aspects of the line to you personally want to oversee? If you don’t, you won’t know where you stand. In a room full of sharks, they’ll smell blood.

I’m pleased to say that I believe, and I have witnessed, that you can all get there. It might take a few months, or years, but it happens.

Sometimes, it’s not the right fit. Perhaps you are well received in fifty different small stores, or gyms, or spas, but not in a big chain.

Landing one big chain with twenty locations is not necessarily better than fifty small stores who truly love you.

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