Don't get canceled: 3 secrets of staying on retail shelves

Entrepreneurs must support turning their brand so retailers don't have a reason to discontinue the product.

Jennifer Barney, Principal

January 23, 2023

2 Min Read
Jennifer Barney, principal, 3rd and Broadway

Staying on shelf should be a constant preoccupation. Waiting to address possible discontinuation at category review time is too late.

The only instance where you shouldn't fear getting discontinued by a retailer is when you have intel that your SKUs are performing at the top of the category. Even if your buyer was friendly and complementary when they brought your products in, this means nothing the day after the reset. You might think you've taken care of marketing your products because you submitted your annual promotions to your distributor and retailers. But more needs to be done.

How to prevent getting discontinued

The number one thing that will keep you on shelf is to be turning at the top of your category. Retailers rank products by sales per store selling, a velocity metric. You want at least one of your SKUs in the top third of the category.

Let's pause here for some Q & A.

Q: Why do discontinuations occur in the first place?

A: They occur to allow physical space for new items.

Q: Why do retailers need new items?

A: Because consumers' needs change, desires are fickle and retailers have FOMO (fear of missing out) on new trends.

While turning at the top of the category is the most important thing, it is not the only thing that matters to staying on shelf. Here are the secrets that you need to know:

  • Channel strategy—Grocers prioritize items that have a clear channel strategy (i.e. natural, specialty, discount), and they especially prioritize exclusives to the channel and/or retailer. You want to emphasize your commitment to investing here versus diluting your resources by spending in other types of stores.

  • Merchandisers—Do you have boots on the ground checking the shelf to ensure placement, tags and out of stocks? Nothing hurts more than planning for activations that don't happen. Get the support you need to ensure on-shelf execution.

  • Hype—Are you engaging directly with retail marketing teams? Help them with events and content. And don't overlook in-store staff: Giving out samples and swag gets them excited. Turning the retail team into brand champions translates to stickiness in uncertain times.

Don't wait until category review time to make your case for staying on shelf. As a natural retailer is known to say, "The time to prevent discontinuation is every day, all day, right now."

Jennifer Barney is an advisor and consultant to food and ag businesses at 3rd & Broadway. She previously founded the almond butter brand Barney Butter.

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Barney

Principal, 3rd and Broadway

Jennifer Barney is a CPG industry expert with deep startup roots from founding and building her own almond butter brand, Barney Butter. Jennifer melds classical brand marketing training with practical tools for startups so that small brands can get off the ground and be investor-ready.

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