Featured Bellwether Customer: Factory Coffee in PFC Natural Grocery in Kalamazoo, MI.
One of the best opportunities for generating sustained revenue for a coffee roaster is selling to grocery stores. With just a handful of wholesale coffee customers, you can increase sales volume, spread your realm of influence, and capture more customers in new markets.
The challenge is getting your foot in the door.
Grocery stores are notoriously difficult to get products into. Buyers for grocery stores often review dozens of products per day. Unseating established brands for shelf space can be a hard sell. And chances are, the grocery stores near you already have coffee roaster relationships.
Despite these challenges, getting into grocery stores can be a powerful and sustainable way to grow your business.
We’ve assembled our top strategies for getting your coffee into stores, including:
- Our top tips for getting meetings with local buyers
- 6 questions you need to ask every potential retail partner
- Essential promotion tips to help accelerate sales once you’re in
Grocery, here we come.
First Principles for Selling to Grocery
Is Your Brand Retail-Ready?
Selling coffee in a cafe or online is frequently a multi-channel experience, with more than one avenue for engaging with customers. When you’re trying to sell from a grocery store shelf, the sales cycle—in its simplest form—only has two back-to-back stages.
- They see your product. If your packaging blends into the other coffees on the shelf, customers will have a hard time feeling inspired to take a deeper look at your bag. A simple, stunning design is essential for capturing that initial attention.
- They pick up your bag. When a shopper picks up your bag, they’re looking for signals that your coffee will be a good fit for them. Lean into the emotional connection by sharing your story, highlighting your values, or identifying a core element of your business that makes your customers happy. If your packaging feels bland or uninspiring, they’ll set it back down.
The more you understand who your customer is and why they pick your coffee over others, the more targeted you can make your packaging—and the more confident the buyer will be.
Buyers are eager not just to put good products on shelves, but good products that customers will build a relationship with. Developing emotionally engaging packaging and messaging is one of the best things you can do before speaking with buyers. Side note: we suggest doing some quick research to understand how UPC barcodes work while you design your retail packaging.
How to Price Your Coffee for Grocery Retail
Pricing tends to feel more complicated than it is. Let’s keep it simple.
Grocery stores generally sell coffee at a 50% markup. That means, if the retail price of the bag is $16.00, they will want to buy that bag from you for $8.00. The markup percentage will vary slightly from store to store, with some stores offering as low as a 40% markup.
The question only you can answer is this: What profit margin do you need to earn to make it worth it?
Example: Let’s say you add up your COGS, packaging and supplies, shipping, and operating costs and land around $6.75 for each 12-ounce bag of coffee beans. Selling to grocery stores at $8.00 per bag generates $1.25 in profit per sale (15.6% margin).
Is that profit margin worth it for your business? It’s not quite as high as you’d earn selling coffee to customers in a cafe, but you can expect sales to be predictable.
These numbers will be heavily dependent on your operation, so make sure you have a realistic idea of your target wholesale price and profit margin before reaching out to stores.
Top Strategies for Getting Your Coffee Into Stores
Meeting With Local Buyers: Pitch Your Product and Earn Placements in Stores
Connecting with retail buyers is a matter of persistence. There are marketplaces and agencies that can help you get in front of people, but when you’re starting out, there’s nothing as powerful as the in-person pitch.
- Start with local stores and regional distributors. Trying to pitch Whole Foods right off the bat is a recipe for disappointment. Buyers from local stores are generally eager to work with local businesses, are more accessible, and have less red tape to deal with.
- Start cold calling and door knocking. Call stores and ask to speak to buyers. Send cold emails directly to a buyer when you can find their contact details. Drop off coffee samples for the team to enjoy and make sure to leave a 1-2 page sell sheet that tells buyers why your coffee is so special (and easy to purchase) as they sample your coffee. Remember, persistence is key!
- Be prepared to tell your story. Stores already sell coffee, and buyers hear pitches every day, so be ready to demonstrate what your coffee means for the store’s customers. Does it satisfy a particular niche? Is there something unique about your process or values? Rehearse your story and break your key messages down into quick, bite-sized arguments.
- Present a marketing plan. Grocery stores need to know your coffee will sell without them having to market your products for you. Presenting a plan for how you’ll inspire customers to buy your coffee from the store is sure to get a few impressed looks.
Ultimately, the buyer should leave the meeting with a sense of partnership. You’re not just another vendor of coffee beans—you’re a trustworthy and thoughtful advocate for their store and customers.
Questions To Ask A Store’s Buyer
Pitch meetings are primarily about impressing buyers, but they’re also a chance for you to vet the relationship and store. We suggest asking some of these questions to demonstrate preparedness and reduce confusion down the road.
- What is the store’s expectation for demos and marketing support?
- Will the store place frequent orders, or does it prefer a regular fulfillment schedule?
- What are the store’s distribution preferences (delivery days, times, frequency)?
- Would the buyer prefer to have “best by” or “roasted on” dates on your bags?
- Are there any “free fill” requirements? We strongly suggest avoiding giving away free products other than buyer samples.
- What does the ideal partnership look like?
Strategies to Promote Your Wholesale Coffee
Getting your coffee in stores is the hard part, but it’s not the end of the journey. You can’t rely on stores to market your products for you.
Grocery store marketing, unlike e-commerce and other common sales channels, is all about brand awareness. There’s no email with a “Buy Now” button, so the trick is to get people as familiar as possible with your product before they see it on the shelf.
There are a couple of powerful ways to do that.
Share the Good News on Every Channel
Launching a product in a grocery store is a big deal, so don’t be afraid to celebrate by letting your community know the good news. Take a picture of exactly where your coffee is placed in the store to make it as easy as possible for customers to find you.
We suggest sharing the news on every platform you can:
- Social media channels
- Email lists
- Your website (bonus points for an interactive map)
Go Bold With In-Store Demos
Live demos are a key strategy for newer brands with minimal brand awareness. In many grocery categories, and especially coffee, you’re not competing with other products as much as you are people’s habits. People probably already have a coffee routine they enjoy. You have to show them why they’ll love your product more.
A regular demo schedule is a perfect way to hand out tasty samples of your coffee to customers as they walk by. It’s the best way to turn your coffee from an abstract product on a shelf into a memorable sensory experience. And it’s the best way to disrupt a well-established coffee habit.
We suggest following these best-practices:
- Proactively engage with customers as they walk by (don’t wait for them to inquire)
- Be generous with handing out samples
- Display your entire product range
- Have products on display that customers can grab for their cart on the spot
- Create big, attention-earning displays
- Sell the deeper story—your coffee is more than just beans
Lastly, and this doesn’t get said enough, have fun.
Even if shoppers don’t buy your coffee right there on the spot, they’re likely to remember an enjoyable and delicious experience for months to come. Next time they walk down the coffee aisle and see your bag, they’ll get those good vibes again.
Exploring wholesale coffee can feel daunting at first, especially when you’re after grocery store customers, but the rewards of expanding your sales opportunities can be substantial.
We’re thrilled to help open up this sales channel opportunity for coffee shops that use a Bellwether Roaster. Our zero-emissions commercial coffee roaster fits into your existing space and is a breeze to learn how to use—making it the fastest way to get your brand into grocery stores.