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Into the aisles: How Charlies Fine Foods turned Covid into an opportunity

In March last year, when Covid 19 hit with full force, business at Charlie’s Fine Food Co ground to a halt. Trucks filled with orders were turned around and distributors asked us to take stock back. Most of our customers closed and their orders disappeared.

Those first couple of weeks we began putting the business into hibernation then realised that perhaps Covid 19 was presenting us with an opportunity. We had to be agile to keep the business going. There was no turning back. We had people working for us, all of whom had families and mortgages. We couldn’t let them go.

It didn’t take us long to realise we had to expand our horizons, and major retailers like Woolworths became part of our ongoing strategy. At the end of March 2020, while everyone was glued to news updates, I began talking to the Woolworths buying team. Unfortunately, getting your products onto shelves at a big supermarket isn’t just a case of setting up a meeting with a buyer then fulfilling their order. We didn’t have a product the buying team wanted, so we had to get creative and innovate and of course we had to hustle a little

Here are my five top tips for getting your niche products into major supermarkets and independent retailers.

  1. Build a relationship with the buying team
    It became apparent quickly this would be the single most important factor in getting Charlie’s on the Woolworths supermarkets’ shelves. We asked the buying team a lot of questions about consumer personas, demographics and the expectations for their category then, most importantly, listened to what they told us.
  2. Use that information tactically
    We used the information and a better understanding of their needs to build

options. We were proactive and provided the buying team with research that gave them a reason to consider our range. We were fortunate the team was very collaborative, and while they assisted to build the right product in terms of pack format and price, we gave them reasons and data as to why we thought their customers would respond to and purchase Charlie’s products.

  1. Know your numbers
    We had to ensure there was sufficient marketing budget to enable us to spend money to promote the products in places where potential customers would see it. We knew it wouldn’t be free to build the brand profile and create interest in the products, but we also had to ensure we ran the costings properly to cover the cost of this marketing, as well as any in store promotions.
  2. Never give up
    We tweaked the products, changed the packaging and formulated our niche. It took us a while, but during the second lockdown in August we had a breakthrough. The buying team agreed to take on a reformulation of our cheese bikkie bites.
  3. Back yourself
    No one is going to do the work for you, and of course you are in the best position to advocate for your products. Spend the time and the money to come up with a solution that is true to you and a winner for the buying team with whom you’re working. Almost a year to the day our business seemed to fall apart, the first Charlie’s Fine Food Co product will hit the shelves of Woolworths.

Jacky Magid, Managing Director, Charlie’s Fine Food Co

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