Selling Your Products to Foodservice – Restaurants & Coffee Shops
Getting your food products listed on a menu in a foodservice outlet is a rewarding experience. This article will give you ideas on how to approach restaurants and coffee shops so you can increase sales.
Specialist food manufacturers work hard to produce high-quality products that people can use and enjoy as an alternative to mass market options.
Restaurants have the same goal – they want to delight their customers and help them discover new tastes and textures that they will love.
Supplying restaurants is a great way to build your brand and can bring you both direct trade customers (who usually purchase at high volumes on a regular basis) and new indirect consumers who can become fans of your brand.
If you are an artisan producer looking for advice on how to sell a food product to restaurants then this post is for you.
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Building & marketing a food brand
Restaurants and cafes want to stock products that their customers will love. The more successful your product is likely to be for the company, the more likely they are to order it.
Therefore, if some of their consumers are already familiar with your produce, the better chance you have to start supplying the restaurant. Maybe they even ask for your brand when out for dinner for example,
A perfect example of this happening is when people ask specifically for Tabasco Sauce. They say ‘Have you got any Tabasco please?’. While Tabasco is just a pepper sauce.
If you can generate this interest, the best way to sell to restaurant owners is to get them to come to you. If you can market your products in a way that gets on owners’ and chefs’ radars you’ll have a better chance of converting them as a customer.
Picking Target Restaurants
If you are happy that you have put in place a brand-building process to help support your sales and marketing, the next step is to consider what sort of companies you should target as sales prospects.
There are many ways to try and find good target companies – always start with who and what you know; your local area, your contacts and the segment of the market that you have the most experience in.
Google maps is also very useful for helping you to find businesses nearby, or in a target town or territory and you can also use popular list and directory sites such as:
When deciding which of the businesses will make the best customers, here are some of the criteria you may want to consider:
- Cuisine type
- Vegetarian/vegan/allergy-specific menus
- Heritage and tradition of the company
- Size and location of the restaurant
- Whether it is independent or part of a chain
- Experience working with artisan suppliers
- Décor, brand identity and customer reviews of the company
Consider the characteristics that match best with your products and build a target list of restaurants to approach.
Next think about who exactly in those businesses you should contact – find out who makes the decisions and who you will need to impress.
The more information about potential sales and marketing targets you can collect, the more you can adapt your pitch.
Sampling the goods
A restaurant’s decision of whether or not to start stocking your product will primarily be about taste.
To really impress them you will need to give them an opportunity to sample your products at some point.
This will need to be carried out at the right time in your sales process and you could send them samples in the post or try and arrange a tasting in person.
Food festivals and events are also good opportunities to promote your wares to potential customers. Free samples at such events could help you get noticed by more people.
Whatever sampling strategy you take, think about the packaging and experience of how the restaurant owner or head chef would taste your food and use the opportunity to explain how you think your products can fit in with their menu.
For example, if it is your aim to start selling baked goods to restaurants then you’ll need to consider how to get them samples that are fresh and that are compatible with the rest of their dishes.
You can explain how to best prepare them, giving any tricks of the trade that you don’t mind sharing, and explain the best ways to store your food.
Going beyond being ‘just an ingredient’
You are the ultimate expert on your particular products and know everything about how they are made and what makes them great.
But in order to be an attractive prospect for restaurants you need to think bigger than just the taste and texture of your goods – they need to work in the restaurant’s various menus and dishes.
To better prepare for your sales conversations with owners it will help if you can spend time trying out the restaurants’ foods and looking at past and present menus.
Think about how your products would fit in – even come up with a few recipe ideas yourself – and why customers would find them attractive and chefs would get excited to try them.
In the modern market chefs use all sorts of techniques and equipment to make exciting dishes, so you’ll need to get creative and consider how your products could be prepared in ways that you’ve never experienced yourself.
Think liquid nitrogen, water baths, smoking devices, spiralisers and other new-fangled approaches!
Your ideas need to fit with the target restaurants you have in mind, but try and show the full potential of your products.
Becoming a professional supplier
A well-known brand, a great tasting product and ideas on recipes and menus are only pieces of the puzzle; you also need to be able to demonstrate that you are a reliable and professional supplier capable of building a genuine partnership with a restaurant.
There are several parts to this that you need to think about in your marketing:
Logistics – can you handle large, regular orders for a restaurant or café? Do you have the resources to produce, package, store and transport the products to potentially demanding timescales?
Certification and insurances – what accreditation and regulatory certification do you have that helps prove you are a trusted supplier? What about insurance and contingency plans to prevent supply failures?
Commercial agreements – are you willing to offer minimum order bulk discounts to companies? Are you able to provide a comprehensive but simple contract and are clear on your invoicing and payment terms?
You can probably handle all of these processes when needed. But spending some time thinking about how you would be able to get a new professional supplier agreement for a restaurant up and running as quickly and easily as possible could help you spot any gaps in your resources.
And when you’ve made these operational decisions, you can share them in your marketing materials to reassure prospective customers that you will be able to give them a great service that would benefit their business.
Taking the leap
We hope you have enjoyed this selection of tips for selling to restaurants and that it inspires you to make this a part of your business development and marketing activity.
Helping a restaurant delight its customers with high-quality specialist food products combined into inventive menus is a great achievement.
It is also an exciting step for your company. A successful restaurant can branch out into multiple locations and open new venues at other businesses, events and locations. They can also offer their own recipe books and other merchandise, do theme nights and get featured in local and national media.
If you can develop a strong partnership with a restaurant, your food business could be an important part of their growth for the future.