New suppliers to the wholesale sector usually have to learn the hard way exactly what their customers expect from them and their products. Wholesale Manager is here to help. In our new series we put your questions to leading trade buyers.

Meet-the-Buyer-Photo-Sarah-Sangster-2Sarah Sangster, beers, ciders and spirits buyer at Bidvest Foodservice, spoke exclusively to Wholesale Manager.

What are the five most important factors which decide whether you list a product or not?

It’s important for us to be able to see the insight driving the product’s development, instantly recognise the product’s relevance to our customer base and understand the support and investment behind the product. Additionally we look at whether the pack format is suitable for our customers, and, of course, the price.

What are the most common mistakes new businesses with new products make when approaching distributors?

The most frequent mistake that we see is that new brands haven’t properly tailored their product or package for wholesalers.

We also look for a full and substantiated launch rationale to back a new product up – it helps us see why the product has been developed and how suppliers envisage it in the marketplace.

To maximise a product’s potential at launch it is essential that suppliers consider how they can support it above and below the line, as promotions play a key role in a product’s success in its early stages.

It goes without saying that a full first year plan with activity to recruit, reward and retain customers is a must have, but you’d be surprised at how many suppliers overlook this.

Finally, some suppliers that come to us don’t offer products on sale or return – which many of our customers buying alcohol require.

What are the key differences between approaching a distributor and approaching a retailer with a new product?

When approaching a distributor, it’s important to keep its customer base and customers’ specific needs front of mind, as they will be different to those of consumer’s in retail.

We look at how relevant the product is for our customers as well as pack format and size. Will it suit our customer’s needs? Is it available in bulk? Is it easy to store and use? Retailers have different priorities to wholesalers, so businesses should be mindful of this and tailor their products and packs appropriately.

It is also important that suppliers think about business plans and how they are going to highlight their brands to wholesale customers to generate interest and get buy in. We offer a bi-annual printed price list, monthly promotional brochures, sector and category specific collateral as well as promotional material specifically focussed on new products and space on the Bidvest Foodservice website, so there are lots of opportunities to make noise.

Ra ra days, reduced cost trials and other incentives are good ways for suppliers to engage with sales, telesales and depot teams too. We also hold internal and external events throughout the year, enabling suppliers to engage with both customers and sales teams to drive awareness and understanding of their brands which in turn will increase volumes.

Distributors need to see a strong marketing plan, including high levels of engagement with sales and telesales teams and depots. These are ‘must haves’ to ensure pull through, as in wholesale there is no opportunity to garner impulse buys or entice customers at a physical till point as there is in retail.

Roughly what proportion of products that you are approached about end up being listed?

It is very difficult to put a figure on this as there are so many factors to consider – from the particular category and demand in the market to product availability and quality of the products presented at any one time.

What’s the best way for smaller brands to approach your buyers?

There are many ways in which suppliers can approach the group commercial team and we do like to hear from new and innovative suppliers who have created something that we don’t already offer.

We have a web portal where suppliers can enter their company/product details and the information is cascaded to the relevant buyers for response. There are also many trade shows that Bidvest Foodservice buyers and category managers attend, so these can be a good way to get on our radar.

Alternatively they can speculatively call our head office to speak with the relevant category manager, but this isn’t the best way as we’re often out and about a lot. A number of smaller suppliers also engage directly with customers/local depots about their brands.

In terms of what we look for from new suppliers, I’d say passion and enthusiasm, plus knowledge of the wholesale market and the market trends and dynamics of the category concerned are essential. As is a flexible, honest a collaborative approach to working with us so we can both achieve success. That’s on top of a good product that meets a customer need.

What support can wholesalers offer small scale businesses?

Bidvest Foodservice prides itself on its demonstrable commitment to working with smaller brands and the company has extensive knowledge of and experience in launching new brands into the wholesale trade.

We have a number of varied and exciting platforms that smaller suppliers can use to raise awareness of their brands such as monthly New For You promotions, e-commerce, a wide range of collateral, supplier and customer events and roadshows, and access to depots and sales teams.

We have a proven track record of developing successful relationships with suppliers and our innovation pipeline in which we help to develop products sets us apart from other wholesalers.

What do you see as the fastest growing product categories in wholesale?

There are a number of product areas driving growth in the spirits, beers and ciders categories, namely gin, premium spirits, craft beers and spears (beers mixed with a shot of a spirit) and spiders (cider mixed with a shot of spirit).

Research commissioned by the Gin Guild determined that gin is the spirit-based drink of choice this summer and there has been an uplift in this category accordingly. Similarly, sales of premium spirits are outgrowing the standard spirits category by 9%, allowing operators to generate significant extra revenue, craft beers are growing by 75% YOY, and Spears & Spiders are growing by 70% YOY, albeit from a small base.

Consumers are looking for choice and variety and are prepared to pay extra for something different and more refined. We have recently undertaken a comprehensive category review to ensure that we have a suitable offering in these areas which includes innovation and allows customers to capitalise on these high margin ranges.

If you have any questions you’d like to Ask The Buyer, email Charlie Kent care of

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