Your own online shop or the wholesale route?

The rules for reaching your target buyers are changing fast

We have asked two industry experts to give us their thoughts on how independent food and drink producers can navigate the new selling environment.

Many F&B producers start off with a passion for the products they make and with early success comes decisions. How best to grow the business, which markets to go for, who to work with, or increasingly is setting up your own online shop suitable for your ambitions?


We asked Joe Birkedale Managing Director of Project 36 a full-service marketing agency working with both B2B and B2C markets for his advice:

“The landscape is changing and it’s important not to be tempted into thinking that there are cheap easy answers to growing your brand.


Many brand owners see B2C – selling from their online shop directly to consumers, as a fast and easy way to get sales; but completely and utterly underestimate the spend required to maintain their profile and promote it ahead of their competitors. Sadly, it’s often the brands with the biggest budgets and most professional support that succeed and that’s not necessarily the ones with the best product.

And don’t forget, that in most sectors (and this is particularly relevant to food and drink), a retail customer is most often a one-off buyer. Establishing brand loyalty is a difficult task for food and drink – but it is possible; if you have the right story, strategy and route-to-market.

Repeat schemes like Laithwaites and Graze solve this problem by offering curated collections, not single brands. They build loyalty by increasing choice. If you manufacture a single drink type or a small range of snacks, it’s a completely different proposition.

With all of that said, what your online shop sales do provide is evidence that people like your products and are willing to buy them. Sales figures don’t lie and this evidence is essential if you decide that retail or on-trade wholesale is your route to market.

Attracting the attention of wholesalers and distributors is also a marketing skill in its own right. Knocking doors and giving away freebies rarely works and typically requires a significant budget.

Getting a listing with a major wholesaler takes a professional campaign of increasing brand awareness directly to that market and it has to be supported by compelling evidence of demand – and yet more money as most wholesalers require you to keep providing that evidence by creating your own sales (and marketing) even after they have agreed to give your brand a trial listing.

In conclusion, success comes from a mixture of a great product, professional sales and marketing and the ability to fund the required steps. Oh, and a healthy dose of hard work.”

Joe Birkedale
Managing Director, Project 36

Brand Values – Analysis and Growth

If you have your route to market mapped out a clear business plan and a budget to start the journey the next consideration is to a brutally honest assessment of your brand. Everything from the way it looks, to packaging, the ingredients, sizes, terminology and much more.

We asked Giuliano Mai one of the UK’s leading brand analysts for his thoughts. With a long background in growing brands like Bottle Green and Illy Coffee, Giuliano now heads up Orobica brand consultants for F&B producers aiming at both big retail and the on-trade.

“After many years of working with a large number of independent F&B brands the main change I have seen is the chance for new quality products to get traction without a huge budget. Time was that some of the best tasting products would fail to succeed and inferior but well funded similar offers would become household names. You still need a budget, professionalism and a structured marketing plan, but increasingly if you have a quality product a good niche to work in and real provenance you can make it through.


When I first meet a brand owner my first action is to listen. Is there a path through, do the commercials stack up – the sales/budget to support the ambitions? Then there is the product itself, the competition, the need for another brand in that sector, why would consumers, supermarkets, wholesalers be impressed and take a gamble? This is not just the taste, it’s the whole deal, the way it looks, pack size and design and its provenance, the quality and availability of the ingredients and any other USP and all of this has to stack up before I can put it in front of one of my contacts in the trade.

Part of this anticipated journey is your growth plan, you may be an actual kitchen or garage operation, but you need to know how you are going to scale up. This is where many brands fail, what worked nicely as a mom and pop enterprise simply doesn’t always transfer easily to conforming to the needs of the big operators. This is the main reason I am now working with Comesto. It’s a low-cost transition model for companies wanting to sell to the on-trade and keep their brand values. Direct sales with the support of a wholesale operation means you control who you sell to and the prices you charge. My thinking is that for most quality independent producers the access Comesto provides should take care of the on-trade sales. And this can only help you then challenge the retail market.”

Giuliano Mai
Managing Director, Orobica

Comesto is all about the brands. Our ambition is to become the service that breaks the old wholesale model.

Low cost and effective and with none of the red tape and obfuscation that has placed barriers in the way of quality F&B producers. And we are not just an e-commerce shop, our sales reps, our tech and our close relationship with industry experts means we look at every supplier brand as an individual partnership. We started out with one simple aim – to give consumers in pubs and restaurants more and better choice – come and join us to make that a possibility.