Mind the Gaps — shepherding your product from purchasers to chefs and diners

Getting your product into a distributor is just the first step, and tailoring you message for just one aspect of the business, like purchasing, can leave you stuck in the enthusiasm gap between purchasing and sales and distributors and diners.

You’ve heard the expression, walk a mile in my shoes.  Well, if it’s a seafood distributor you are talking to, they better be comfortable, all-terrain shoes! Distributors are on the front lines of the marketplace. The purchasing department has to make stocking decisions and then cross their fingers that the outside sales team can actually perform to pull the chosen product through.  On the other side of the warehouse, you have sales teams looking for the latest, greatest, flashiest (and unfortunately often un-tested) product to be stocked by the purchasing department.

Appreciating the needs of different players along the value chain will get your product the attention it needs. To get the excitement of everyone you’ll need, you have to learn when to turn up the romance and when to play it straight.


Purchasing — Just the Facts

The purchasing department is faced with making fast-paced decisions on what to stock and when to speculate, all while keeping close tabs on current inventory.  While a fine-tuned purchasing department works closely with the sales director, there is a particular set of details and information that the purchaser needs to consider your seafood product as a viable option.

The key is concise, clear, easy to find information. Communicating clearly with the purchasing department doesn’t have to be cumbersome or even require a separate document.  When developing a sales sheet, integrate a call out area with nuts and bolts product information: sizing, packs, cuts, certifications, etc.

This is not an area for a sales “pitch,” but instead the information here should be straightforward and crystal clear. Don’t make the purchaser read through a full paragraph in order to find out if your product is packed in a 20lb or 50lb box, whole or fillet.  The more clear and concise you are the better chance you have of getting an order.  Some distributors are partnering with foodservice groups, contract negotiators or are serving retailers who must follow particular sourcing mandates.  In your product meets particular program guidelines or certifications, you should call this out in an easy to access format.


Nothing Sells Itself — Sales Reps Sell It

Facts alone can get you an order, but facts alone won’t get you into the kitchen. Once the purchaser has granted your product a spot on the shelf, your job as the producer is not over yet. It’s easy to think that the quality of your product will speak for itself and it will fly out the door to the best kitchens, but your product will only get there if you have a sales rep willing to propose it to the chef.

The more interest sales reps take in your product, the better it will move — and your job is to give them enough details to work with, both technical and personal.

Sales reps are the ultimate multi-taskers.  They deal with hundreds of personalities and are the pivot point between the distribution warehouse and the kitchen. A good sales rep will need to navigate the local food scene and find the fit between their accounts and the products in their portfolio.  They know how to match the product detail to the chef. A chef committed to local sourcing and supporting the community will want to hear about how you interact with your community, for example. The more aspects of what you do that your materials touch on, the more opportunities there are for a sales rep to get excited about your product and find a fit.

But keep in mind that since the sales rep is the conduit to the table, the story they tell to place the product in the kitchen may ultimately be told table-side.


Know your selling points (hint — they don’t involve the word hygiene)

The details that make the difference may be more personal than you think. We all make buying decisions partly by the facts and partly by emotion. Especially in a crowded field of similar products, emotion may win the day. A detail about the town you operate from can do more to add to your general appeal than how you use the latest device.

Seafood producers can be thrilled with the details of the latest hygiene standards or technology, but that’s not how people want to think about their food.  The last thing that a diner out for a relaxing evening wants to hear about is hygiene.  Diners expect chefs to have complete control over the health, cleanliness and integrity of the product they are serving. Instead, diners want to be reassured that what they are about to eat, was brought to them with the utmost respect and with their enjoyment in mind.  Customers want to “feel” good about eating and enjoying their meal. They want the restaurant to paint them a picture that they feel good about choosing.

When developing your messaging points think through every aspect of you and your production with an eye to that picture. Include information about the environment, community engagement, your location and yourself. Practical details along with more “romantic” story points add up to a message than can follow your product into the distributor and out to the dining room.