Post mortems take your game to the next level

November and December are critical months in food retail. The stores are full of product and the sales and sell-through impact the retailers’ ability to deliver overall results. There is another level to winning the sales battle over the holidays. There is so much work put into building a great plan and executing at this time of year, the morale within the stores and the office really is impacted by holiday sales. Suppliers should understand this.  Although you can’t change what happened in 2015, you should start planning for the 2016 holidays now. This is the best time to do a post mortem while it is fresh in your mind.

Why they are so important

There are a number of reasons to do a post mortem:

1.  Assess your performance
2.  Determine what worked really well
3.  Determine what you need to change
4.  Determine what you would like to see your customers change
5.  Demonstrate to your customer that you want to make this as successful as possible for both parties

Where to start

The best place to start your post mortem is with two things: your 2015 results and your 2016 plan.  The actual results from the previous year are most important because they are facts and it is also how the retailers will be judged. I suggest you look at your item sales from the beginning of November through to the end of December. Depending on the lead times for items and shipping to the retailer, the time frame might be earlier than this. Ultimately you want to understand what moved through the stores during these eight to nine weeks.

Set up four columns on your spreadsheet:

2014 actual             2015 plan                 2015 actual             2016 plan

Review your item sales in each of these columns to assess the season.  You can add percentage variances if it helps you assess the performance.

What went well?

Once you have an idea of the sales numbers, you need to review the quantitative and qualitative positives from the season.  The sales are critical but there are other important factors. Perhaps you had a production issue but because you were proactive and called the category manager they worked with the supply chain to get the product into and out of the warehouse quickly so it hit the stores on time. This is just as important as a sales increase. It speaks volumes to your relationship with your customers.

You should include any notes from store visits. If your new packaging looked great in the store or the department managers you talked to said consumers were talking about your product -- great! Include these valuable insights.

What do you need to change?

We can always improve.  Where are the gaps for your business that you see from the sales results and other observations? Perhaps your competitor introduced a product that impacted your sales or the expensive shipper you invested in never made it to the floor. Make sure you include solutions, not just the problems.

What would you like to see your customers do differently?

You don’t control the retailer but if you can demonstrate that a different action on their part would benefit both of you, then it should be in your post mortem. Often retailers do things without understanding the impact on suppliers. The impact of a late purchase order or an ad that gets printed wrong can be a huge issue.

Build your plan for 2016

Take the information you have been compiling and build a quick plan for 2016.  It is a long way off but you need to start somewhere and the best time is while all of this is fresh. Plan the sales and make note of what you would like to see happen again, what you would change and what you would like to see your customer change.

Share your post mortem

Category managers are busy and they don’t always do the things they should. Completing a holiday post mortem could be one of those things. I encourage you to share your post mortem with the category manager. They might not even respond but they will see it and they will understand you take the holiday selling period as seriously as they do. When you do have a meeting to plan 2016 you already have the groundwork in place. Now is the time to pull the information together and get ready for the end of 2016. If you have had success with post mortems or if you have any questions please give me a call at (902) 489-2900 or send me an email at

The other side of the desk

Get to know the operations people at the retailers

We all get focused on the category managers and the buyers when we are working with retailers. There is no doubt they are the most important decision makers. You should expand your relationship to include the retail specialists and operations people within the retailers as well. They see products in the produce department every day and they are interacting with consumers regularly. Fresh products have so many critical points where quality is impacted. These people can tell you what your items look like when the consumer takes them home.

Do not take too much of their time because they have a job to do. If you develop a relationship where you can have a conversation about your items and how they are performing this is very valuable.

What’s in store?

Teddy bears and peanut butter

Prior to the holidays Kraft distributed this special package with a Gund teddy bear and Kraft peanut butter. For $14.99 the consumer got the 500g jar of peanut butter, the bear and $2 worth of Kraft peanut butter coupons.

This accomplished a number of things for Kraft:

1.  Delivered good value without discounting peanut butter
2.  Distributed coupons to bring the consumer back for another purchase
3.  It is an in/out item so it will get merchandised on an end or somewhere away from the regular shelf giving Kraft incremental space. 

This could be an opportunity for your business, if it is, now is the time to prepare for next year. You will need to pull together the offer, get the retailers to agree to carry it, generate item numbers and depending on who you are, offer some incentive to the retailer to give you the space.

This is an example of taking advantage of holiday shopping traffic to sell an item that has nothing to do with the holidays.

Next month

We have spent a number of months devoted to the relationship with the category managers and your retail customers. Next month we will begin a new series of articles devoted to increasing your sales. This should be a top priority in your business and we will start with how to interrupt the shop and get your products in the shopping cart.  If you have some topics you would like to see covered in upcoming issues please give me a call at (902) 489-2900 or send me an email

­­­­­Peter Chapman is a retail consultant, professional speaker and the author of A la cart-A suppliers’ guide to retailers’ priorities. Peter is based in Halifax NS, where he is the principal at GPS Business Solutions. Peter works with producers and processors to help them navigate through the retail environment with the ultimate goal to get more of their items in the shopping cart.

Key word:  Peter Chapman  


Publish date: 
Monday, February 1, 2016

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