Anthony Barbieri, Produce Marketing Association
Anthony Barbieri, Produce Marketing Association

Retailers can have it tough. Like celebrities followed by the media, buyers at industry events bringing together the entire produce supply chain often find themselves in the spotlight with many suppliers competing for their attention.

All that focus can be uncomfortable, which I’m sure is not suppliers’ intention. Suppliers understandably face pressure to connect with buyers.

However, certain approaches can work better than others. With the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit around the corner, it’s a good time to revisit how best to connect with the retail link of the produce supply chain.

After all, supply chain-wide events are where companies and our industry are most primed to gain the biggest advances.

A mingling supply chain creates a mash-up of individual connections, perspectives, information and cultures. This intersection establishes fertile ground for innovation, problem solving and growing produce consumption.

At PMA, we hold our share of meetings that gather the global supply chain, so we decided to ask some of our retail members to speak anonymously on their preferences for forging supplier relationships.

Turns out professionalism, respect and understanding are your most effective tools.

Here is what else buyers had to say.

New products are not enough

It’s no secret new items are an important attraction for retailers, particularly at trade shows. But just because it’s new doesn’t mean it meets the retailer’s needs.

As one buyer told us, “I often get suppliers saying to me something along the lines of ‘I have an item for you!’ without even knowing who we are as a company or even seeing one of our stores.”

It’s about them, not you

The buyers we spoke with repeatedly said personalization gets noticed.

“When a supplier has a personalized deck for me that hits on key points, I remember that. Obviously the supplier needs to perform, but I know that supplier went the extra step to prepare to talk about either our current business or prospective business.”

Buyers also said a supplier’s company strategy needs to fit their own company strategy.

Remember the main canon of effective marketing and communications: Know and speak to your target audience’s needs, problems and concerns.

Forget the competition

Always promote for your product or company, never promote against anybody. As one buyer put it, “There’s nothing more frustrating than a supplier telling me to stop buying from folks we’ve had relationships with for decades and instead just flip the switch and buy from them.”

Rather than zeroing in on what’s wrong with the competition, suppliers should focus energy on their company’s strengths and what they can do to help that retailer grow sales.

Respect time

Being relevant, personalizing your message, not wasting your breath on the competition — all these actions also demonstrate respect for retailers’ time and good use of your own time.

Like everyone else at busy industry events, retailers can get overloaded quickly and their every minute is valuable.

Here are some other ways retailers mentioned to help make good use of their time and your efforts:


  •  “Try to always get the key points out as fast as possible. Executive summaries work well for this purpose.”

  •  “Be prepared with multiple forms of marketing. If I don’t have time to do a full stop, I can get a CD or flash drive to take with me and review later.”

  •  “Have proper sell sheets. Business cards are fine, but when I review all the sell sheets after a show in my office, the people who just gave me business cards are less remembered.”

  •  “Stress how we can grow sales together. I am not as focused on short-term wins — as in ‘I will sell you a load of this’ as I am with long-term plans and sustained growth.”

  •  “Don’t seek me out while I’m having a conversation with another supplier. Even just jumping in to say ‘hi’ and shake hands can be annoying and disrespectful to the other party.”


Just as access to the right people and the right information can help your company grow, the right approach with retailers also plays a significant role in growing business.

When you lead with professionalism, good business magically follows.

Anthony Barbieri is vice president of sales and business development for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

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