HOW TO GET YOUR NEW FOOD PRODUCT ONTO THE SHELF AT WHOLE FOODS MARKET

This is good.

It’s scary good.

This beyond my-mom-liking-it-good and beyond friends-encouraging-me-good.

This stuff is good. For real.

And now it must be shared with world.

You pull the kitchen curtains a little more flush to ensure that spies do not witness the execution of your secret recipe.  Let them only have a mouth watering whisp of aroma, of intrigue, of your blood, sweat and vision.

Wringing your hands, you wonder: What now?

If you are an aspiring food based business that wants to maximize exposure of your products, you must first ensure that where and how you produce your products is done legally, professionally and safely. That’s where the Chefs Center of California comes in. The Chef’s Center, located in Pasadena, California, offers a health and safety approved kitchen facility for budding food entrepreneurs to start or grow a business. After meeting the criteria for membership, one can rent this facility and all the appliances in it to produce and package for a modest hourly fee.

So now you have a food item that you have produced by the numbers, according to food safety regulations and under the guidance of culinary professionals. Now what? In addition to providing a facility in which to work and professionals from whom to glean advice, the Chefs Center offers monthly seminars. Topics range from how to manage your Yelp page to maximizing profits.

Last spring, Whole Foods Market Foragers Dwight Detter and Kimberly Albright conducted a seminar at the Chefs Center on how to get your Taste Sensation onto the shelves of Whole Foods Market. While this seminar was Whole Foods specific, the standards of Whole Foods Market are high enough that one could apply these criteria to just about any market a new food based business is trying to crack.

A good start for someone aspiring to Whole Foods Market shelves is to familiarize themselves with Whole Foods Market core values.which can be found on the Whole Foods Market website.

LOCAL

Local is a word that should be as important to an artisanal food producer as it is to a ski bum or a surfer. According to the WFM presentation, food items grown, raised, landed or made must be done so “less than seven hours by truck” to be considered local.

Seven hours by truck for your product may be a breeze, but according to Detter, local goes beyond one’s product. In-store sampling, getting familiar with the buyers and even the staff are things that increase the likelihood of success exponentially.

Detter referred to The Waffle Lady as one such success story. Her product was not only locally made, her involvement in the product when it was on the shelves gave the term local a whole new feel. Not only did she demonstrate her product and make pancakes on Staff Appreciation Days, she made it clear that she was accessible in case of problems, adjustments and even recalls that are an inevitable part of most food based businesses.

STANDARDS

Many of the following highlights can be found on the Whole Foods Market website under info for potential vendors.

Detter and Albright explained in their seminar that Whole Foods Market, like virtually every retailer, is looking for the Next Big Thing. They seek WOW. The Wow Factor.

A solid part of the wow factor can be found in the superlative, “Best”, which is first on their list of standards: “We seek the best.”

The remaining list of WF standards is:

No artificial flavors

No artificial colors

No artificial preservatives

We promote organic

We promote fair trade

We promote animal compassion

REQUIREMENTS

Labels: Labels are the first thing Dwight and Kimberly look at when they are considering a new product. Detter encourages hiring a third party to verify the label. The third party service should guarantee that if it’s wrong, they’ll pay for the reprint. This procedure, which only costs around $50-$100, is worth it in that most recalls are label related.

Facilities: The Chefs Center of California is a good place to start. Shared kitchens still require one to acquire a state food processing permit. Whole Foods Market looks for third party audits when considering where a potential product was made. If you’re having a copacker do the work, ask them about GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices). One GMP is a third party audit for which they should provide records.

Ingredients: The ingredients part of this list is fairly straight forward. If you’re trying to get onto the shelves of Whole Foods Market, there should be nothing artificial in your product.

Attributes/Claims: According to Detter, this is a biggie. Gluten free? Keep in mind that while some people make the choice to be gluten free, there are children and elderly persons who could be seriously compromised if they eat something that claims to be gluten free and is not. Currently, the FDA is not involved in many claims on labels, so it is up to the producer to ensure the utmost accuracy in claims. What Whole Foods Market looks for is proof of a sincere effort to verify label claims.

Recall System: A recall is a horrible thing to go through, but they happen. If you have a product on the shelves at Whole Foods Market, you will be responsible for a system that takes your item off the shelves in case of an emergency. According to Detter, most recalls are due to labeling issues. You have to be able to do a recall overnight and a food producer should do a mock recall at least once a year.

Insurance: Liability for the food, auto insurance because you are going to be doing demos and proof of workers comp if someone unrelated to you is working on your product.

WHAT SELLS?

Whole Foods Market foragers look for five main things when considering your new product:

Appearance: the product itself, the package, the labels. Both Detter and Albright voiced  preferences for straight forward labels with clean messages.

Variety: How many sizes and flavors do you offer? In this matter, sometimes less is more. A new business may not be able to sustain a huge variety.

Unique or Saturated: Soda, beer, cookies and other competitive markets need the WOW. Does your product stand out?

Story: Is there an interesting story behind the development of your product?

New Trends: Are you ahead of the curve with your product and how long will this trend last?

QUESTIONS FOR THE NEW FOOD ARTISAN-

Detter illustrated the Food System with a chart of four circles around one in the middle(like the side of dice representing 5). The one in the middle was labelled “US”. The four circles around US represented PRODUCTION (grown, raised, landed) PROCESSING (cooked, made, canned, frozen, finished), DISTRIBUTION(road, rail, air) and CONSUMPTION (home, neighborhood, retail, institutions).  Between all of these elements are relationships that determine where you and your product fit in and how it will affect the US. Elements that make “us” stronger are:

Economic Vitality (does it offer a win/win?)

Access (nutrition, food security, food justice)

Resource Management (energy, waste, water, land, labor).

How your product affects US in this scenario will have a sublime impact on your whether or not you will be successful in getting onto WFM shelves. If this is not your goal, it is still a worthwhile process to consider the Big Picture and where you fit into it.

More Questions:

Am I a concept or a veteran? Are you just starting out with something completely new or have you been around a while and you are ready for rebranding and new product lines?

What is my brand? What are my graphics? How am I going to package my product?

What’s my business plan?

How much money can I lose?

How much money can I spend?

How much money do I have to make?

What happens when I run out of money?

The many questions above are very basic, but the more thorough answers you have for a buyer, the better chance you have of getting onto their shelves.

When you successfully answer these questions and fit yourself into the criteria of being local, all you and your product need to do is be approved by the local store and Forager to get into 1-3 stores. Upon approval, you will be your own distributor, dropping off your product on the back docks with an invoice. You can negotiate shorter payment terms and get one to one personal attention.

When you are ready for the next step, going regional, a little more is needed. You will have to submit at an Annual Category Review. You will need to be approved by a purchasing team. You will need approved methods of distribution and you will have to meet established payment terms.

Some things that are good to know: The Department Team Leader makes the purchasing decisions. Foragers can lobby on your behalf, but the buck stops with the DTL.

Communication is huge. Don’t expect, make sure. Bring enough product when you do a demo.

You can build product support through active demos. Your demos are not restricted to the store. Be a part of the community. Here’s your new battle cry: Remember the Waffle Lady! If you’re generating sales, you strengthen the win/win relationship and make everyone, especially the Team Leader, happy.

Be reliable and consistent. No purchase order, no delivery. In other words, you’re a professional now, representing your own business—act accordingly.

The next Whole Foods Market seminar at the Chefs Center will be on December 7, 2013. Contact us at 626.744.9995 for details or to schedule a time to come in a tour.

More INFO:

Sopac WFM local site, http://wholefoodslovelocal

Our global site, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/whole-story and WFM loan information,www.wholefoodsmarket.com/values/local-producer-loan-program.php

A local networking site for artisanal food entrepreneur,http://finefoodsgroup.org/

Vendor information, www.wholefoodsmarket.com/vendor

Edible magazine, www.ediblecommunites.com

Nationwide community matters,http://www.communitymatters.org/

SlowMoney keeping one’s money local,http://slowmoney.org/

This is good. This is scary good.

And now that I have some basic info, I think it just might get onto a shelf somewhere. Even a Whole Foods shelf…

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