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May 28, 2024

If you’ve ever wanted to get inside the mind of a retail buyer or merchandiser, this episode, in which we sit down with key executives representing mass, specialty and natural grocery retail chains, is required listening.

Will McDonald, the Vice President DMM - Beverages for Walmart; Kristin Alas, a Category Manager for Gelson's; and Brian Albert, a Sr. Category Manager for Sprouts, reveal how each retailer evaluates emerging brands, assesses innovation and trendy ingredients, and cultivates successful relationships with founders.

Show notes:

1:10: Interview: Will McDonald, VP DMM - Beverages, Walmart – Will talks about how he cut his teeth at Walmart in the retailer’s gift card section, why “being choiceful” in managing assortment is “the bedrock of what we do,” and why Walmart is interested in meeting with as many potential suppliers as possible. He also explains why he prefers in-person introductions to emails, how long it takes from an initial meeting to getting product on-shelf and the value of working with brands that are sold in a limited number of Walmart locations. Will also engages in some category word association (RTD coffee, energy drinks, mid-calorie soda, RTD cocktails, functional beverages, kombucha/chilled beverages, kids’ beverages) and answers a question about Walmart’s ability to influence how kids’ beverage brands formulate their products.

23:35: Interview: Kristin Alas, Category Manager, Gelson's – Kristin explains why Gelson’s wants to be known as a place for discovery of new brands and novel concepts, why uniqueness is key to her buying strategy, and her interest in products made with adaptogens and added functionality. She also discusses her interest in adding new products to Gelson’s stores on a monthly basis, the reason brands stay on shelf and best practices for enhancing trial and awareness. Kristin also talks about why she urges founders to email her and not send unsolicited samples, what she covets in package design and why she encourages brands to launch at Gelson’s.

35:20: Interview: Brian Albert, Sr. Category Manager, Sprouts – Brian talks about how Sprouts has become a hub for new and innovative brands and how he defines innovation, while sharing an example of a brand that captured his attention and why it was given placement in all Sprouts stores. He also explains how the retailer assesses taste, why organic ingredients are a “table stakes” attribute, what to highlight and what you shouldn't say in a pitch meeting. He also shares the lead time to get into Sprouts’ innovation center and what makes for a great working relationship between founder and retail buyer.

Brands in this episode: Good Dirt, Juni, Happy