Nick Bertram, senior vice president of merchandising strategy & support at the retailer, was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after striking a deal with online platform RangeMe to help streamline its new product and supplier discovery process.
“Some of our larger suppliers are coming up with really great innovations, but most of the true breakthrough innovation is happening much more at the grass roots level than from big corporate R&D facilities,” he claimed.
“The primary benefit to us [of using RangeMe] right now is finding new suppliers of unique items that are not necessarily on the radar of our category managers; trying to source more things on a local level; and trying to work with more women-owned or minority-owned businesses, for example. We buy centrally but we are localized in our execution.
“Yesterday I was talking with the president of our Giant Landover division about the tool and I was able to very quickly zoom in and find products manufactured in Maryland in a particular category that are GMO-free, for example.”
The process that we had for process discovery before was quite clunky and manual
An online tool that’s easy to use and visually engaging also makes the process of product discovery more engaging, he said.
“The user interface is fast and modern, there are some really cool features like seeing a 360 degree view of the product. You can search by category, geography, look at the sales pitch, the profitability, so it’s actually fun, rather than laborious, like going shopping for unique new products.
“The process that we had for process discovery before was quite clunky and manual; [prospective suppliers] were faxing things to us, emailing us, cold-calling us, contacting us via social media. I can’t tell you how many linkedin messages I get every day.”
Breaking through the noise
While some entrepreneurs that are “really focused, hungry and creative” manage to break through, some companies with truly innovative products are not always able to get a hearing, he said, “so the great thing about this platform [RangeMe] is that it lets the product speak for itself.”
Category managers don’t always have time to systematically log, review and keep on top of, all of the approaches they get through different media, he said, which means that they often “wait until they have a re-set where they are actually looking to fill a particular spot,” before considering inbound approaches.
“The process that we had for process discovery before was quite clunky and manual; [prospective suppliers] were faxing things to us, emailing us, cold-calling us, contacting us via social media.
"I can’t tell you how many linkedin messages I get every day.”
Nick Bertram, senior vice president of merchandising strategy & support, Ahold USA
Getting out there before everybody else can really help grow your business
While chains such as Whole Foods have built a reputation for being the first to identify and cultivate entrepreneurial new brands in the natural, organic and specialty food arena, conventional retailers are increasingly seeking to get a slice of the action, and tools such as RangeMe make it easier for these brands to reach a broader audience, he said.
“We’re not risk averse when it comes to product discovery; we’ve got very talented category managers across four retail divisions [Stop & Shop New England, Stop & Shop New York Metro, Giant Landover, Giant Carlisle] plus Peapod, representing around 800 stores with unique customer needs.
“And in cutting edge categories such as natural and ethnic and specialty, getting out there before everybody else can really help grow your business.
“One of the reasons that we’ve had such tremendous success and above market levels of penetration in those categories is that we sensed that trend and invested against it; we need to do that for the next new thing.”
Asked whether space allocation in grocery stores accurately reflects what consumers are interested in, or if slotting fees still enables some larger brands to hold onto more real estate in the store than might otherwise be warranted, he said:
“In the industry it’s probably a fair comment, but within Ahold USA we have developed capabilities to have store-specific planograms based on several different criteria and we’ve got quite disciplined in our targeted approach so that each category has exactly what it needs to grow. We also work closely with partners at IRI and Nielsen and others so we know what the industry growth is at and we know where we are in relation to that in terms of penetration in any category.”
RangeMe works with Whole Foods, Sprouts, Target, Petco…
Ahold USA has joined a growing number of high-profile retailers – from Whole Foods and Sprouts to Petco, SpartNash, Sam’s Club Regional, Jet.Com, Lucky Vitamin, Gelson’s Market, Winn Dixie, and Bi Lo – that have signed up with RangeMe.
RangeMe offers retail buyers, who are currently inundated with approaches from suppliers via online forms, email, social media, phone calls, and face-to-face contacts at trade shows and other events, a more efficient way to manage inbound approaches and compare what suppliers have to offer.
The information is presented in a consistent format and allows buyers to rapidly find and compare new products, while suppliers are more likely to get their products in front of the right people, says RangeMe.