Never underestimate independent retail

While most companies judge the success of their business based on their distribution at Whole Foods Market, independent natural food stores actually account for the majority of natural product sales sales. Several business practices can help improve your product distribution in this segment. Make sure to focus your efforts on all sectors and not just one.

Bob Burke

October 17, 2014

2 Min Read
Never underestimate independent retail

Whole Foods Market stores account for nearly one-third of the population of natural food retailers. These stores represent 3 percent of total store count and roughly 30 percent of approximately 900 stores that account for over 80 percent of natural product sales volume. Additionally, Whole Foods Market accounts for 35 percent of UNFI’s total company sales.

Many companies judge the health of their business by their distribution at Whole Foods Market, but as numbers indicate, there are lots of opportunities outside this national chain. The largest sales segment within UNFI (the leading natural product distributor nationally) is the Independent Natural Food Store category, at over 36 percent.

So, how should you go about tackling this segment of stores?

1. Prioritize. Focus on the top-tiered accounts in each region. Work with your broker to identify and prioritize the accounts with the best potential for your products.

2. Present trade promotions that are flexible and simple to understand, present and evaluate.

3. Work closely with your broker (or sales people) to implement the program. Get input from your brokers on “what works” in their region and with the majority of their independents. Get involved, especially at the early stages of program presentations, so you get first-hand knowledge of any unforeseen problems on the implementation end of your plan. Many promotions have failed in the implementation phase.

4. Evaluate the overall promotional effectiveness. Often overlooked, it’s very important to learn what worked and didn’t work so that your promotional effectiveness continually improves. Don’t simply look at product sales through a distributor (many factors such as a promotion with a national chain could be the reason for spiked sales). Speak with individual broker representatives and retailers themselves to get their input.

5. Consider an EDLP (everyday low price) or EDV (everyday value) program to build strong relationships.


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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