How to get a listing in a food distributor

Have you got an amazing food or drink that is selling well in markets?  

Creating a buzz online?

Or selling well in your local delis or cafes?

And are you spending most of your time at the Post office having been up all night packing parcels to all these people and not being able to spend time on the other important parts of your business?

Well if the answer to any of these is yes, you might want to consider a distributor to take on the responsibility for you.

The first thing to think about when getting listed, is who to approach?

The market in the UK is complicated (well to me at least!) so I have tried to split it into four groups.  There are mainstream national wholesalers, specialists in artisan food products or health foods and then local suppliers who focus on a region.  And of course distributors and hybrids who will showcase your products but not actually get it there!!  

  1. Mainstream wholesalers

There are many wholesalers whose job is to buy your product from you, hold it in their warehouse and then either ship it to their customers or sell it via cash and carry such as Makro or Booker.  They may be targeting food service, retailers or both and generally are not proactive at selling.  For example Brakes WILL have a sales force of national account managers who service multiple accounts but generally you need to be out there selling to the end user ie retailer or café and Brakes will fulfil it.  The big ones are listed below – generally they will want to hold a minimum of one pallet of stock from which they will supply to their customers.  They will charge you for this!

The Big 30

There are also a number of what I term specialist wholesalers who are more challenger food and drink brand specific.  They have a closer relationship with their customers and arrange training and sampling within their retailers.  They are more likely to be proactive in selling for you but you need to be prepared to invest in marketing and promotions to ensure that you generate sales.  There is also no guarantee of sales and you need to make sure you review their terms and conditions – some will work on a sale or return basis (which I never advise!), others have onerous settlement terms of 90 days and others will want a hefy investment in advertising on their site and other add ons.  Also your competitors are on there so be very careful – they may well be selling their products not yours if the deal is better for them and their customers.

  1. Distributors

The third category to look at is distributors and curated online sites who sell your products to the retailers but don’t do the actual delivery – they just help find B2B customers for your products.  Examples of this for artisan challenger brands would be:

Ok so we have looked at the opportunities, now how do you get a listing?  

  1. Pick the right distributor for you – You may find that if you have been out selling and contacting potential retailers, they are only buying from Brakes or Booker so that will give you the indication of whom to approach but you will need that traction first. if you have a few delis and cafes already on your books, going to a local wholesaler could be relatively easy as you are bringing them ready made business.  They are far more likely to be interested than if you just turn up hoping that they will go and sell your stuff from cold.  However if you are just starting out, you may prefer to work with a curated website who will help develop your listings and raise awareness

  2. Know your numbers – just like gaining a retailer listing, you need to understand the commercials and wholesalers will cost you more than going direct but they of course will take away the hassle of delivery, might do more selling and reduce the complexity of invoicing etc.  For this service, there is of course a charge which will comprise often making a margin or taking commission on your products.  This can vary from 10-30% depending on the service provided.  Other costs might include:

    1. Listing fees

    2. Site advertising

    3. Samples to interest the retailer

    4. Instore marketing materials

    5. Staff training (for the retailers)

    6. In store sampling days – run by you

  3. Build your tribe – you will need a decent number of followers and brand lovers who are going to get buy your products 

  4. Contact them – it does seem obvious but to get the listing you will need to talk to them – some have made this very easy and you just go to the website and apply.  Others, you might be lucky enough to pitch at an event such as Bread and Jam (for example Cotswold Fayre are inviting pitches – (  And others, I suggest you check out Linked in and find out who the buyer is and get in touch.  This can be an easy process or might take time as these guys are very busy and may have buying windows

  5. Do not be afraid to negotiate – the terms and conditions of some of the food distributors and wholesalers run into pages and pages.  READ THEM, please and don’t be afraid to negotiate on such things as settlement terms (believe me the shorter the better!), margin and marketing budget.  You have to get an idea of how much product you will actually sell and when would you break even if you pay £1000 to be on their website – its more than you think!

And if you need more help on getting the best listing for you, head over to our Pitch Perfect course which will take you through every step of getting a listing

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