Increase Impact of RD Programs by Leveraging Vendor Partners
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Two realities of the retail RD role make the vendor relationship crucially important – you are constantly pulled in multiple directions and are typically understaffed to accomplish all the potential opportunities within the retail company. Building effective vendor relationships can help the retail RD manage both these job-related issues.
Tips for fully leveraging relationships with vendors include:
- Have a clear sense of your health and wellness mission/vision and goals for the year. Whether you work off an editorial calendar or have specific programs you are targeted to initiate or focus on in the upcoming year, being able to clearly define your goals positions you to have productive discussion with partners on how they can help you achieve these goals.
- Based on your vision and goals, categorize your key merchandising and vendor partners. Identify the product categories, store departments, brands and vendors who are most aligned with your vision and mission. According to Lara McCauley, Vice President, Mars Food North America, “Vendors want to help and consider RDs as a great resource, so the best first step is to ask for what you want or need. Usually the biggest barrier is finding out who the right person is to talk to within your vendor’s team. While your first point of contact might be through sales, there are teams of people behind them ready to help. If you’re not looking for anything specific but would like to establish a relationship, ask if they have an RD or someone who works with RDs on staff that you could meet with or call. Speaking to someone within the vendor’s company that understands the RD role can help you build the most fruitful relationships.” In addition to food companies, consider commodity organizations as potential partners.
- Understand vendor funding. A common frustration of retail dietitians is much of vendor funding is managed by retail buyers, and RDs often have to negotiate to gain dollars to support their programs. This is starting to shift, and more vendors are allocating dollars to support RD programs and events. Understand where individual vendors stand on this topic and be candid in communications with your merchandising partners so they know you are pushing for shared goals, not competing with them for vendor dollars.
- Leverage vendor expertise. Vendors are experts on a variety of topics including consumer insights, store layout, shopper purchase decision, POS data analysis, and a host of other topics that when leveraged can enhance the retail RD programs and events. According to Lou Shaheen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Trans-Ocean Products, “Most CPGs subscribe to IRI or AC Neilsen scan sales data that can offer the RD insight to brand and SKU sales history at their companies. At Trans Ocean, we receive the refrigerated seafood category sales both nationally and for local markets for almost every retailer.” Access to this type of data provides definite benefit to retail dietitians.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities and timing and action. While meetings with vendors can cover a broad range of topics, it’s essential to spend time at the end of each meeting to document follow-up items and responsibilities.
- Consider short-term and long-term goals. With so many priorities, retail RDs often need to be focused on short-term accomplishments and the return-on-investment they bring. When working with vendor partners, build efforts to capture value quickly, but still pursue big ideas.