Getting stocked with a major retailer can be a huge boost for your startup, providing you with regular cashflow and a great platform. But first you need to find the right people and the right approach – and how?

t plus drinks sell a range of supercharged, healthy teas packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Husband and wife team James and Jade wanted to create ‘super’ teas that would provide genuine health benefits. Now they’re stocked in major retailers such as Holland and Barrett, but Ocado was their first major retailer. Here’s how they got that listing.

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How to get stocked in Ocado

What stage was your business at when you got the contract with Ocado?

We had done the hard startup 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.

Why Ocado?

Ocado was a big step up for us as a brand at the time, because it was our first major retailer with national reach. Until then we had focused on healthfood stores like Wholefoods in London and independent gyms, spas and cafes around the country that we could get to. However, despite being online only, Ocado is one of the fastest-growing retailers in the UK and has an enormous customer base - so this gave us a way to reach customers we previously couldn't reach geographically.

Who did you approach, and how did you find the right person?

We won a competition called Grocery Accelerator back in 2015 for emerging food & 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!

How to get stocked in Ocado

Did you pitch over phone, email, or in person?

When we got to the relevant buyer we first were asked to send in samples to see if it something that could be of interest. Once they had that, we managed to agree a meeting with the buyer to present the brand in more detail at their head office. This was our first big pitch at the time so we were keen to make it count. The buyer was very friendly and supportive and seemed to buy into the brand. 

How long did the whole process take?

From beginning to end for us it probably took around 12 months. We’ve since learned with other listings we have since achieved that the process can take up to that long depending on if you can find the right person to talk to and what time of year you have to wait to get into their range review, but buyers have their own processes to follow - so we had to be mindful of waiting for our opportunity and making the most of it when it came. 

Any other tips?

We have secured big retail listings quickly, but as in the case of Ocado and others, they can take time too. It’s important to understand the process and range review windows to manage your expectations as to when you could get in. However the key is to keep moving your business forward in the meantime, have a plan B or another set of retail targets to work towards to ensure you are building your brand, and to make sure you’re growing revenue so you’re not overly reliant on one retailer coming on board at a specific date.