One of the nation’s leading food and drink retail experts is calling on start-ups to get the basics right before taking on the world.

Photo of Karen Green

Author and business advisor Karen Green, of Food Mentor, has extensive experience in retail, working as a buyer for big brands like Tesco and Boots as well as advising several food and drink companies.

With a father running a department store in Newbury and landing her first job aged five, Karen was born into retail. Now she’s focused on supporting food and drink start-ups to be successful, scale up and land major contracts.

But Karen says there are basic business tips which some start-ups sometimes ignore, including simply creating a brand that enough people want. “I meet so many brands who have created a product that is targeted at such a small niche that it is impossible to make a decent sized business,” she said.

“If you look at The Grocer top 100 brands, they are all mass market like Cadbury’s, Coca Cola and Walkers and they sub niche the brand through different variants.

“I’d also say that start-ups need to create a brand with low ingredient costs and know what it costs to make. If we continue the Coca Cola story, they are a cheap plastic bottle filled with carbonated flavoured water – no organic ingredients, not free range and made in a highly-automated virtually zero-labour factory. This has then given them loads of cash they can reinvest into marketing, which enables them to grow the volumes. I sometimes work with brands that don’t know how much it costs to make or don’t factor in their own labour and it ultimately becomes too expensive to sell to retailers.

“Finally, start-ups need to create a brand that they can make. Some brands have sold into retailers and are ready to launch the products, but frustratingly cannot find a manufacturer to scale up from the kitchen table stage. There is no point selling your products to big retailers if you cannot make the volumes they require.”

Karen says food and drink start-ups can often fall victim to being too focused on the niche of their new product, adding: “They can sell the sausage, and even the sizzle of the sausage but they fail to realise that it isn’t the sizzle that the retailer is interested in – it is how many customers will buy that sausage and how much extra profit they can make. Start-ups need to master understanding the individual needs of each buyer within each of their target retailers and how to target their product offer to meet those needs.

Karen will be leading our Doing Business With Big Business event in March, featuring companies like Selfridges, Virgin Atlantic and Fortnum & Mason. The event is perfect for food and drink founders looking to pitch their products into large retailers. Find out more and book your place today.