The quick answer is yes, BUT they need to step up their game!

There is a seismic shift coming to the natural retail landscape. This will create a dramatic change to the go-to-market strategies used by natural brands and retailers.

Whole Foods is in the process of adopting category management principles, the same strategies used by mainstream brands and retailers. In addition, Sprouts is in merger talks with Albertsons.

The category management strategies used by mainstream brands and retailers is night-and-day different than the strategies used in natural. That is partially due to the dramatic difference in available resources in natural. It is also due to the way category management is practiced in natural.

I have yet to attend a natural business school, seminar, or program that will begin to prepare natural brands and retailers to compete effectively at this level. How do I know this? As a category captain for some of the most iconic brands on the planet at the top retailers in the country, in addition to being certified at the highest level of category management proficiency – Certified Professional Strategic Advisor, I’ve seen first hand, the monumental success brands have achieved using these advanced strategies.

This does not mean that natural brands and retailers need to “sell out” or in any way, move away from their core beliefs and mission. On the contrary, that is their most important asset. I coined the term “True Category Management” to raise the bar and differentiate the way these advanced strategies are used in natural. In the most simple terms, “True Category Management” helps natural shoppers align with and be found by consumers who share similar beliefs, values and vision.

Bottom line?

If you want to play at this level, you need to BE at this level.

So what does this mean and why is this important? How will it affect natural brands and retailers? The answers to these questions have been the focus of all of my articles, talks, webinars, etc.

Natural brands and retailers need to adopt a more strategic and collaborative approach to the way they work with each other.

Generically speaking, retailers don’t make anything. They sell other company’s products. Retailers cannot possibly be experts on all of the products and categories they sell. Retailers sell real-estate in the form of shelf space. It is therefore imperative that they have the right assortment of products on their shelves to maximize sales and shopper satisfaction. The best way for retailers to achieve this is to partner with brands and to leverage their expertise in the categories they sell products in.

This is good news for progressive brands willing and interested in taking a leadership role in their categories and with their retail partners. The competitive landscape is growing increasingly more challenging and the big differentiator is a solid strategic plan – “True Category Management”.

Natural brands need to be experts. Experts in their products, the categories they sell in, their competition, the retailer’s competition, the consumers who purchase their products, what those shoppers purchase when their brand is in their shopping basket, etc. Savvy retailers need and want help from their brand partners to guide and support them in all of these areas and more.

How do brands achieve this? By leveraging actionable data, advanced analytics, consumer/shopper insights, and forward-thinking strategies in every selling situation with retailers. Canned topline reports are not enough to differentiate brands. The harsh reality is that most retailers already know how brands are performing. Retailers want insights that they can’t gain through their internal data. The also need brands who are willing and able to partner with them and help them grow and compete more effectively.

The good news for natural brands is that natural organic products are responsible for the sustainable growth in most every category across all channels. True Category Management is how you grow sales in any economy and in any channel.

Important lessons for the natural channel

The natural channel is the incubator for the healthy living, better-for-you, movement. The opportunities are great for any company willing to invest in its future and willing to take a leadership role in our industry. This means maximizing all available resources, owning every part of the sales process, relying more heavily on their own salespeople than on brokers and distributors, maximizing their merchandising, developing targeted marketing programs that drive customer traffic and increase shopper loyalty, and paying particular attention to their core consumer’s wants and needs.

To recap, the recipe and roadmap for success is:

• Owning every part of the sales process
• Making a strategic investment in technology and talent
• Leveraging consumer/shopper insights throughout the selling process
• A passionate commitment to your core consumers’ wants and needs
• The courage to take a leadership role in the industry and category
• A commitment to never become complacent, always striving for improvement and growth
• A commitment to develop a collaborative relationship between retailers and brands

Continued daily progress toward these important objectives will net tremendous results. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. It’s progress, not perfection, that will set you apart from your competition.

What strategies do you use with retailers?

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