Small/Local Producers V Supermarket Power !

Elmer Fudd, resembling Egghead early in his ca...

I exhibit at lots of consumer shows, county fairs, game fairs etc, and many of my customers ask if they can get my products in supermarkets. I’m always having to explain why I have no interest in supplying to the major supermarkets, and why I think they would have no interest in me! Small producers like Fabulous Vodka have to have a real point of difference about their products, the cliche “made without compromise” is actually true! As a small producer I can’t hope to get the economies of scale, or the price breaks, or even the credit terms (especially these days!) that the large producers get, so I can’t compete with them on price. The benefit of small batch production, however, is that it allows me total control over the quality of my products. There is no-one in my business who is not passionate about my products, as we make it, package it, and then sell it personally to our customers. I can explain how the products can be used, what is in them, how they compare to competitors products etc. That sort of service is not possible in a large supermarket. Which is why I love to sell through farm shops, delicatessens, independent off licences, micro breweries etc. Staff in these outlets buy into the passion that we small producers have, and are usually keen to pass on that passion to their customers, who, in turn, want something that is high quality or locally produced, or where they can be confident that ingredients used are of a consistent and high quality. The difference is in the term “sell” large supermarkets don’t sell to their customers, they make products available for them to buy, they don’t have the staff, and their staff can’t possibly have the knowledge to do anything other than be able to point the customer in the direction of a particular product. Small retailers are far more likely to know their products, know the producer, and know the provenance of their products not least because they will usually have fewer of them and have direct control over the products that they stock.

I don’t mean to knock supermarkets, we do most of our shopping in them after all, but then I just seem to pick up the things that I know and leave asap. If we try something new it’s either because of the price or because of an advertising campaign. Supermarkets are understandably reluctant to allocate shelf space to a product that is relatively unknown, not supported by an advertising push, and more expensive than the main brands, and it’s unrealistic of me as a small producer, to expect someone to take a chance on my products when they are more expensive and unknown to them. From my days working for a bottler and distiller I produced products for many small brand owners, some of whom considered themselves to have “made it” when their product had been listed by a major supermarket, only to be disappointed, or worse, when they’ve had to remove their product or sell it at cost or less just to move it.

Supermarket power

Smaller retailers will generally make sure that any new product will fit in with their style of shop and their type of customer, they will take the time to learn about the product and producer, and are usually keen for the producer to provide tasters allowing their customers to try before they buy. For a small producer like myself this allows me to grow my brand and sell through people that know me and my products, and who know their customers and what they like. Obviously it takes me longer to build my business this way, but I do get satisfied customers, happy retailers and a lot of repeat custom, so it does work for me. I certainly wouldn’t advocate boycotting the major supermarkets, but there are more and more small, specialist and high quality independent retailers who can give better service, have a better knowledge of their products, and support other small / local business, and they deserve to be supported by us, as consumers.

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