How we made it happen: Growing our business by getting stocked by a retailer

Getting your product stocked in a supermarket can give your business the platform it needs to thrive. In this blog four entrepreneurs supported by Virgin StartUp share how they grew their businesses by securing contracts with big organisations.

Want to learn how to do business with big business? Come to the Virgin StartUp Doing Business With Big Business Event.

We made it happen: Getting listed on Ocado

Business: t-plus drinks

Elevator pitch: A range of vitamin-enriched teas, blending herbs, green teas, 50% of your RDA of essential vitamins and natural flavours to create a truly nutrient-dense range of hot drinks.

Co-founders: James and Jade Dawson

Virgin StartUp Loan amount: £500

We had done the hard start-up yards before we tried to contact Ocado. We wanted to refine and perfect our product and value proposition before we tried to sell our product to a major retailer like Ocado. So for the first year of business, we tested our products and customer reaction at market stalls, exhibitions, competitions and anyone and everyone we could talk to. Once we had tweaked the formula and improved our branding we felt ready to move up a level, and that’s when we contacted Ocado.

We then won a competition called Grocery Accelerator back in 2015 for emerging food and drink brands in the UK. Through that, we met a buyer that was part of the judging team and we got the name of the relevant person to get in touch with. It still took a long time to get the right person (as they had changed roles internally since then) and also fit into their range review windows which only happen at certain times of the year, but with some persistence and patience we finally got our chance to pitch!

We made it happen: Getting stocked in Sainsbury’s

Business: Pack’d

Elevator Pitch: ready-to-go frozen smoothie kits

Co-founders: Luke Johnstone and Alex Stewart

Virgin StartUp Loan amount: £25,000

We approached Sainsbury’s in October 2015 by email with our six-page presentation and this was quickly passed to the right buyer. Things moved fast from this point - we sent samples, had back-to-back meetings, spoke with the buyer and finalised key details before getting the thumbs up. In March 2016 we launched in over 300 stores nationwide!

It took us a few months for the launch to be confirmed, as big retailers have set periods when products change on the shelves.

Our steps were: first contact, send samples, meet, negotiate, meet, negotiate, paperwork confirmation. It was important to react fast to facts and prioritise discussions, without neglecting other work. All the stages are important and it isn’t completed until the order is placed - the paperwork stage seems simple, but it's the final hurdle.

It's all very exciting and also scary when you've invested so much of your life in to the company, but we knew that if we gave our best we could be proud and would stand a great chance.

We made it happen: Getting stocked in Fortnum and Masons

Business: Fools and Queens

Elevator pitch:  Pudding company offering quintessentially British puddings but made without sugar (they're also gluten-free)

Co-founders: Aly Johnson and Matt Heath

Virgin StartUp Loan amount: £15,000

We launched Fools and Queens at Lunch (a trade only, food-specific show) and on the first day of the event one of the other exhibitors grabbed us and pointed out the Fortnum & Mason buyer. Co-founder Matt ran after them and invited them back to our stall to try our sugar-free puddings - the rest, as they say, is history! Well, sort of.

We used social media and LinkedIn to get emails and names. We would reach out to the buying team on social media, asking if they wanted a sample or two. If that didn’t work we would find the name of the buyer or the name of a buyer in the team, via LinkedIn, and contact them directly.

We made it happen: Getting stocked in Holland and Barrett

Business: Rejuvenation Water

Elevator pitch: the World’s first Amino Acid enriched spring water, designed to deal with the rigours of modern life.

Co-founder: Kris Ingham

Virgin StartUp loan amount: £7,450

Holland & Barrett had been a milestone listing for us from the very start. Their healthy range of products, coupled with their innovative philosophy, meant they suit Rejuvenation Water perfectly.

We met at the Lunch show in Islington in September. A number of different range buyers from Holland & Barrett came past our stand and recommended for the drinks buyer to pay us a visit. He wanted to learn more about our USP, our Amino Acid concept, and the level of traction we have developed so far.

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