Key steps to help SME food and drinks brands expand

Posted: 18 July 2019 | , | No comments yet

While big brands have the recognition and resources to weather most storms, SMEs can often find themselves capsizing in choppy waters. Here are some key steps to help your food and drink brand thrive. 


In any sector, big established players always have an advantage over their smaller competitors. When it comes to food and drink, SMEs are particularly problem-prone. Smooth supply chains are essential to building a reputation as a reliable supplier. Any uncertainty or disruption damages your reputation and can see you frozen out by big retailers. 

Here are some key steps to help your food and drink brand thrive. 

Aim high

You may think that, as a smaller supplier, you’ll be ignored by big retailers. Yet, big retailers are always competing to find the next big trend and unique products. Reach out and see what they say.

Being new doesn’t make you irrelevant. Aim high, believe in yourself and others will believe in you too!

ice cream conesSeasonality starts early

The food and drink sector is particularly susceptible to seasonality. Ice cream sells better in summer, hot chocolate in winter etc. What I wasn’t prepared for was how early retailers plan their seasonal ranges. I thought we were ahead, having our summer drinks range ready for April. It turns out that retailers have locked in their summer product range by March.

Identify the buying windows for your market segment and begin promoting your seasonal products in advance.  You’ll stand the best chance of getting your products in store for your key selling period.

Three necessities

Food and drink products need three things: look good, taste good, and be sold strategically. These three also need to be aligned, so that the right audience is attracted to the right product for the right retailer.

If you’re unhappy with the flavour or texture, the packaging design doesn’t reflect your product or brand, and/or your sales strategy doesn’t match your product or retailers, it’s better to stop and reassess than to plough on. Poor execution will damage your reputation and make it difficult to break into further retailers.

Be patient

The best opportunities can take an age to come together. Many of our retailer conversations have lasted over a year before they agreed to stock our drinks. Patience pays off, however. Once you’ve landed one or two big retail partnerships, you’ll find everything slotting into place a little easier and quicker.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to speed the process up. Stick with it and keep your chin up.

Define your values

At some point, every business must make tough decisions. Many of these are easier if you have defined brand values. Whether you should buy Fairtrade or not will depend on your price point and company ethics. The same goes for the recyclability of packaging.

Define your brand values and ethos at the outset and never compromise ‒ it’s what defines you and your product. Let them guide you in all decisions, big or small.

Being small and unknown doesn’t mean your food and drink business can’t flourish and expand. You need a good product, a little planning, and lots of patience. But your biggest asset is your belief in your brand. If nothing else, never lose that belief! 


Craig Sams and William Fugard are co-founders of Gusto – a natural, organic, and Fairtrade energy drink. 

Craig Sams is also the co-founder of Green & Black’s luxury chocolate and Whole Earth Foods. Craig is a key player in the organic/wholefood movement and is crediting with helping “to kickstart the vegetarian food market in Britain”. Craig invented Gusto for a party at the Groucho Club celebrating Whole Earth’s 20th anniversary.

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