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Retailers aim for pitch-perfect sourcing

This month, David Orgel discusses the various ways that retailers are finding suppliers to help innovate and offer the most relevant assortments.

Retailers have had enough of the status quo when it comes to choices of products and suppliers — and they are seeking new pitches.

Call it pitch-perfect sourcing?

Retailers are holding events — ranging from pitch competitions to recruitment forums — to find innovative new suppliers. In many cases, these are small or early-stage vendors that may be hard to find through other means.

Maybe retailers are being influenced by a wave of TV shows catering to entrepreneurs — from “Shark Tank” to “Dragons’ Den.”

Fortunately, the pandemic hasn’t hindered retailers’ efforts to cast their nets wider, as more companies and executives are comfortable making use of virtual events. Sourcing forums by retailers are both entrepreneurial and smart, as they indicate a drive to differentiate for increasingly demanding consumer bases — and to make progress before competitors do.

Some of the activity has been directed at finding local suppliers. Meijer and Hy-Vee are two retailers with locally focused events, both supported by RangeMe, a product discovery and sourcing platform, and its parent company ECRM.

Hy-Vee has set a series of quarterly dates for “Best of Local Brands” virtual presentation summits from local suppliers across its eight-state operating area.

Meijer was set to hold a virtual “Localization Summit” on April 1, centering on its six-state market area. The event focuses on finding local suppliers for such categories as center store and fresh grocery, beauty and personal care, OTC and wellness products, and baby items.

Meanwhile, Walmart and Sam’s Club used a virtual “open call” format to identify U.S.-made products to consider carrying. The joint event last fall led to identifying more than 175 small businesses to move to the next level of consideration. Walmart saluted the “entrepreneurial spirit” of the vendors competing in the program.

Some retailers are leveraging events to find diverse suppliers — at a time when consumers increasingly are valuing diversity and inclusion efforts. One of these retailers is Meijer, which will host its second supplier diversity recruitment event in May in partnership with RangeMe. The goal is to find relevant businesses in certain minority ownership categories, such as certified minority, LGBTQ, woman, veteran and disability.

Taking a slightly broader approach, Ahold Delhaize’s Retail Business Services unit held a supply chain innovation pitch competition last year to identify companies that can help overcome challenges. The winner, which beat out a number of finalists, was vertical-farming technology start-up Evergreens Farms.

I see a number of reasons why events to identify new suppliers are valuable. First and most obvious, retailers can’t expect to be aware of the entire landscape of suppliers and products, so this is an avenue for discovery. Likewise, these are opportunities for new suppliers to learn what it’s like to work with big retailers. Also important, retailers can position themselves as mentors for smaller and innovative vendors that are early in their journeys, a move that may lead to enduring alliances.

There are other ways to mentor and accelerate suppliers as well. In a unique approach, Raley’s is operating a food development and testing lab to support entrepreneurs at The Lab@AgStart incubator in Woodland, Calif.

Retailers are signaling a willingness to pursue nontraditional strategies in the face of rising competition and higher consumer expectations. The same old products and strategies aren’t going to be enough anymore. In fact, supplier pitches don’t have to be perfect, as long as they bring new and innovative thinking. 

About the Author

David Orgel

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.

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