6 distributor promotion programs to know

There are many different names for distributors' promotional programs, but the concepts are all similar. Natural products consultant Bob Burke identifies the six basic programs for natural and specialty distributors and explains how they work. Assess your finances and sales to determine which program best suits your needs.

Bob Burke

November 11, 2014

4 Min Read
6 distributor promotion programs to know

Natural and specialty distributors have different names for their programs, but the following list will help define the general concepts:

1. Catalog/Price Book: This is the main catalog that the retailer uses for ordering products. The product name, unit size, distributor code, wholesale and Suggested Retail Pricing (SRP) are included in these listings. Catalogs are usually updated quarterly and are a good advertising vehicle for introducing your products to the retailer community. 

2. Newsletter/Monthly Specials Bulletin: This is a listing of new products and monthly specials. Insertion of product selling information during the same month that a product is on sale is a great way for your product to get retailer exposure and gives an incentive to purchase the product.

You should be in contact with the advertising department eight weeks before the promotion begins to request that the ad appears adjacent to the product description and/or promotional announcement.

3. Consumer Flyer/Flier/Circular: Distributors will solicit high volume, well-distributed products for participation in these monthly programs. Mass-market retailers produce weekly listings of what is on sale in their stores during a particular week. These are delivered to the consumer through inserts into the local newspaper, and are available in-store.  

The distributor solicits participation from the vendor community, sets the deals, price points and designs the layout of the circular. Space is left at the top for the individual store logo to be printed during the production process. To the average consumer, it looks as if the store is doing its own store-dedicated circular (just as their mass market competitors do).

These programs can help force distribution into the stores, as the retailers feel compelled to carry what is listed in the “flyer” for the month. They generally sell far more product (three to four times) than standard promotions listed in the newsletters or monthly special bulletins previously mentioned, but the programs tend to be more expensive (higher promotional discounts, plus ad fee). You need to determine if your expected sell-through justifies this program. Most distributors are willing to negotiate the cost of these flyers based upon frequency of participation and other advertising commitments.

4. Case-Stack programs: A program available to manufacturers of shelf-stable products, these deals are listed in distributor catalogs and monthly newsletter or specials bulletins. As the name implies, retailers can get increasing discounts by purchasing larger quantities of product. These deals can be customized to last one month to one year.

For the right product, these can be highly effective promotional vehicles, but the program should be monitored closely to make sure that it is resulting in incremental sales (through increased consumer promotion or reduced price points) and not just going into the retailers’ pocket. If sales do not increase proportionately, the program should be reevaluated.

5. Shipper Programs: Manufacturers of shelf-stable products may choose this program to ensure that their products get in-store visibility. Manufacturers usually build a display that serves to ship and merchandise their products. These “shippers” are an excellent vehicle for securing prime retail space, good price points and consumer awareness. The “shippers” can be shipped through distributors, or the display itself can be shipped to the store and the product ordered through the distributor.

Take great caution when cutting your distributor out of the loop by shipping product direct to their accounts. It can severely impede the progress of growing your distributor relationships.

6. Other: As distributors have grown, so too have their promotional offerings. UNFI and Tree of Life both have a full menu of options including Coupon Books, “Vendor of the Month” programs, tractor trailer panel advertising, buying club, food service ad vehicles and more. Both UNFI and Tree of Life have made a special effort to feature companies making a difference be it sustainability initiatives, fair trade programs, local sourcing or the like. These are great opportunities for companies to highlight what makes them special within the industry.


This article is an excerpt from the Natural Products Field Manual, Sixth Edition, a guidebook and resource compendium for entrepreneurs in the natural products and specialty foods markets. Authors Bob Burke and Rick McKelvey describe it as “the book we wish we had when we were starting out.” The Field Manual is a no-brainer for anyone bringing natural, organic or specialty products to market. For more information, click here.

About the Author(s)

Bob Burke

As a consultant since 1998, Bob Burke provides assistance in bringing natural, organic and specialty products to market across most classes of trade. This includes work in strategic planning, growth strategies, writing sales, marketing and business plans, budgeting, pricing, building distribution, broker selection and management, organizational development, strategic options, financing, branding, trade spending management and assistance around M&A, due diligence and venture strategy groups. He is also the co-author and co-publisher of the Natural Products Field Manual, Sixth Edition, The Sales Manager’s Handbook and Staking Out Space on the Supermarket Shelf. Prior to consulting, Bob was with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt for 11 years as Vice President, Sales & Corporate Development and Vice President, Marketing & Sales. He has held marketing positions with Colombo, Inc. and Sperry Top-Sider. He received an MBA from Babson College.

Bob has worked with numerous companies, including Annie’s Homegrown, Oregon Chai, Snyder’s of Hanover, UNFI, No Pudge!, Kraft Foods, Bayer Consumer Care Division, ConAgra, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Stacy’s Pita Chips, Kettle Cuisine, Small Planet Foods, New Hope Natural Media, Bushes Beans, Equal Exchange, Nantucket Offshore/Stirrings, Immaculate Baking, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Dancing Deer Bakery, The Natural Dentist, Rice Select, EcoFish, PMO Wildwood, S.C. Johnson, Blake’s All Natural Foods, Megafood/BioSan, Mighty Leaf Tea, Lesser Evil Snack Co., Theo Chocolate, The Jane Goodall Institute, Kashi, Project 7, Vermont Butter and Cheese, Yoghund, Bord Bia, American Halal, Orgain, Turtle Island, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bausch + Lomb, Boehringer Ingleheim, Harbar LLC, Rhino Foods, Popcorn Indiana, Stonehouse 27, The ProBar, Hail Merry, Mamma Chia, 479 Popcorn, Heel USA, Nature’s Path, Pfizer, Cape Cod Provisions, E&A Industries, Sopexa USA, Mavea LLC, Via Sana, Skyland Foods, Ignite Sales, Dave’s Gourmet and others.

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