NTR Update:  Food Brokers
A Special Article By Jeremy Prescott of NTR Systems

About the Author:
Jeremy Prescott is President of NTR Systems, a firm that consults with radio stations in the development of non-traditional revenue. He can be reached at (207) 363-5950 or email jprescott@ntrsystems.com.

Food Brokers are one-stop sources of NTR leads. Be sure to develop relationships with this potential revenue source.

What is a Food Broker?
A food broker is a hired sales force that represents many lines or products. Some companies like Hershey Chocolate USA or Frito-Lay may have a direct sales force. However, many companies either do not have the financial resources or choose not to employ their own sales staff. Such companies often employ food brokers.

A food broker company is split into two sides. One side is the Strategic Business Unit; the other is the Customer Team. The Strategic Business Unit is responsible for overall planning. The Business Manager or Account Executive works with the Principal to determine the direction of the their business in the area. The Customer Team executes the plan. They write the orders at the account level and see the customer’s needs are met.

Another key individual, the Principal, works for the manufacturer and represents its interests with the broker.

Your first contact should be with the Strategic Business Unit and particularly the department’s VP or the Account Executive/ Business Manager. While the VP is a good source of leads in his department, the Business Manager is more closely associated with the Principal’s resources. Trade-marketing money (your potential funding) is likely to come from the Principal, not the broker.

The Organization
A broker may represent dozens of companies. There may be several business managers in each department, each responsible for the business of one or two Principals.

A food broker has two bosses. On one hand he has his customers (grocery chains, convenience stores, etc.). On the other is the principal, which is the manufacturer’s representative. Don’t assume that the Business Manager and the Principal agree on how products should be sold and what promotions (i.e., your programs) will be effective. Meet both. Make sure what they both say jibes, or you may get stalled.

Get the names of Business Managers that represent brokered products. If you have a regional trade publication, look at the "who’s on the move" column for people or accounts that are moving around.

Look at the ads in those publications. You may see a food broker’s ad promoting their product lines. Call and ask, "who is the Account Manager for [a given line]?"

Other sources of Food Broker info:

  • Search the web for food brokers and check out their home pages
  • Contact local/regional food associations & grocery organizations
  • Talk to your grocer
  • Call a grocery buyer and ask who represents the products they buy

Another way to get to know some of the players is simply to call the VP of the department and set up an appointment by telling them that you help food brokers and their principals put together "trade-marketing" programs. Tell the VP you would like to come in and discuss how your creative ideas can help move product and boost their sales effort.

If you do not know how many departments a broker has (some are small), ask the secretary. Tell her briefly what you do and let her know you want to call on the decision-makers. She may say it’s small, with only three key people, or she may tell you it’s huge, with many VPs. Pick a department head and move forward.

Understanding the Prospect & Makingthe Call
Food Brokers are salespeople just like you. You both want to be successful. The differences are what will bring you together for a common goal—making more money. The food broker is NOT creative. They deal in pennies and deals. They need creative sizzle to help them sell. The food broker has little time to develop NTR promotions with any depth. You, on the other hand, are in "show business." You have great cross-promotion partners, ideas, hospitality — sizzle. You can provide these resources to the broker so he can look good to his customer.

Prepare for the call by having two examples of successful programs you’ve done with food brokers. Talk to others in your company that have worked with food brokers; ask them for success stories you can use.

Getting the Appointment
As a sales professional, you’ve probably established a successful method for getting the appointment (call RAB if you need ideas or help with this). Just be prepared to answer any questions the broker has.

The Needs Analysis
Before you meet with the contact, get ready for the appointment. Make sure you have a prepared set of questions, re-cap booklets of past programs (if possible), details of recent successful programs, and any POS materials.

A first call is always a challenge because the goals are twofold. On one hand, you want to zero in on the prospect’s needs and how you can meet them. You also want to ask lots of questions to help you identify other leads in the organization. Remember: If you can’t do both, establishing the prospect’s needs must come first.

One of the most memorable pieces of advice given to me by a broker was to get to know something about the broker’s customer before you call to ask for an appointment. For example, if you call a broker and you already know that Shop N Save has an "every day, low price" philosophy, then your programs may be tailored to that philosophy. Or if you know that Kroger has a big push on for its home meal replacement efforts, maybe you can suggest a tie-in with that idea. In either case, you will show the broker you know something about their customer already. It’s a big plus.