Category managers will change

One of the realities of the food business is that you need to embrace change. The consumer is constantly changing and the retailers are trying to keep up which impacts suppliers. Another reality is that the category managers you work with will change too. You need to be ready for these changes. If you manage these changes properly, it should have a positive impact on your business.

Be ready for a smooth transition

You should always be prepared to meet a new category manager or a new customer. This means you have a solid profile of your business, your products and your unique selling point. Not a 57-page history lesson, but a succinct package that will position your business and your products properly. My recommendation would be to review this annually and it should always be ready because you never know when change will happen.

Top five questions when a category manager changes

Every personnel change is different. Sometimes the assistant category manager gets promoted in which case he/she should have a good working knowledge of the category and the suppliers. Other times, the retailer will decide a person in finance needs to get exposure to different parts of the business. They probably have very little experience with production, the history of the category and they might have never heard of your business. When I took over produce for Loblaw in Atlantic Canada, my background was in the marketing department. The growers who took the time to teach me about produce got my attention.        

When a change happens, you need to assess the level of knowledge of the new person in the following areas:

1. What do they know about your product?

You should always try to get your product in front of the category manager. If they are

familiar, then the meeting serves as a reminder and if they are new then you definitely need to meet. If you have a seasonal item, timing might impact this. Photos and videos work well if you are out of season. This is your chance to reinforce your unique selling point. Why your product over the others?

2. What do they know about your company?

Category managers need suppliers to perform and they need to understand your capabilities and why you are a solid supplier. You should provide them with a brief profile of your business and where you see opportunities for growth. Success stories from recent years always help to position your business.

3. What do they know about your category?

I think back to when I started in produce and I really did not know much. I needed to learn fast and there were some suppliers who really did focus on helping me to understand the category. Food is very seasonal and the lead times for every item can be unique. If the new person has 20 years of experience in the category do not try to tell them how to do it. If they are new to the category this is a great chance to position yourself as a valued supplier. Take the time to share insights throughout their first year.

4. What do they know about your industry?

Every food department has different challenges. Years ago, most category managers had experience in the store and they knew the category and the industry. That is not the case today. Employees do not stay with companies like they used to and companies see value in moving people around the organization to get more exposure. A new person with little experience does not have time to get out to plants or fields. You need to take your experience to them. With technology today you can make the experience almost as rich.

5. What do they know about your region?

If you are located in a region away from where the category manager is working this can be an opportunity. Even if they are experienced in the category or the industry you can still take the time to help them understand some of the unique perspectives of Western Canada or Atlantic Canada.

When a new category manager comes into the position you have a new relationship to build. Find the opportunities for you to add value. Often I hear suppliers complaining when these changes happen. It is reality and you have to look for the opportunity.

Time of year is important

The time of year the change happens is very important. This can have a big impact on your business. Make sure you advise the new person about lead times required for decisions. They might not be aware that you have specialized seed or ingredients that require more lead-time than others in the category.

Special arrangements

You should always make a new person aware of any special arrangements you had with their predecessor. Do not assume they will have a complete transition that includes you. Find the right opportunity to discuss the issues. Remember the previous category manager made the agreement on behalf of the company, so you have to position it as though it will continue.

Your first meeting or call should focus on the top issues

Respect the time you have with the new category manager. They probably have a lot to learn and they cannot spend an hour with 200 different suppliers. My recommendation is to review the questions we discussed earlier and put together a top three to five issues you want to cover. Focus on these and then start to work through other items as your relationship evolves. They will appreciate your efforts to focus on the important items. Again, make contact as soon as possible.

Remember to say good-bye

It is always important to follow up with the departing category manager. You never know when your paths will cross again. Regardless of the type of relationship you had, it is

important to wish them all the best. If you have some stories and ideas about transitioning to a new category manager or if you have any questions you can contact me at


Pete’s in Halifax purchased by Sobeys

Recently, Sobeys announced they were buying Pete’s in Halifax. Pete Luckett and his stores are famous for their great produce and his fantastic ability to sell anything to everybody. I remember watching Pete demo his wine when he was starting the winery. Two women were in line for samples, and they were probably well into their sixties or seventies. Pete promptly asked them, with a twinkle in his eye, to produce ID to prove they were old enough to drink. After a few laughs, they both bought the wine. He is a master.  It is unfortunate we are losing another independent. These stores make the big ones better. They push ahead faster and they can respond to the consumer very quickly. When I was at Loblaw, we had to watch what these stores were doing and they did make us better.

Loblaw to drop Loblaw brand in Quebec

Loblaw has announced they will drop their efforts to brand Quebec stores as Loblaw and focus on Provigo. It is amazing the power brands can have and the value they deliver in the market. Personally I believe the offering, the pricing and the experience should make the name on the front irrelevant. Obviously Loblaw felt differently and their consumers must be telling them so.

The challenge for Loblaw is the added complexity of their business, which adds costs. They compete against two large competitors who keep it very simple. Their low-cost model allows them to charge lower retail prices for the same items. It will be interesting to see if this change will help the company drive sales in the face of a strong IGA, a Quebec-based Metro and more Walmart and Costco stores.


Flipp is a great app for flyers

It can be a challenge to follow all the items on sale in food stores. One of the great things about my consulting business is that I get to work with a lot of different people. Recently, a client’s staff member shared this app with me:  Flipp.  It maintains an inventory of all flyers currently available in different markets. You simply use the postal code to get access to the specific flyers.  If you are in Ontario, you can follow item and price in any market just by changing the postal code.       

There are two great features: search and favourites. You can search for a particular item each week. If you want to know what onions are on sale in any flyer you simply search for onions. In an instant you get them all on your phone. You will even get onion rings!  If you search for apples you will get fresh and Apple computers! The other time-saving feature is the favourites. You can select specific flyers to be favourites and each week they will be there for you so you don’t have to search through everything.

I always encourage suppliers to understand what is happening with the ads and their items. This is a great tool to simplify that process for you.

Publish date: 
Monday, February 1, 2016

Click to leave a comment

For security purposes, please confirm you are not a robot!