Insights and Strategies for National On-Premise Chain Pitches in the Beverage Industry
In the dynamic world of hospitality, success isn't just about what's in the glass but how it got there. Sid Patel, the CEO of Beverage Trade Network sits down with Evan Traub, a seasoned professional with over two decades in restaurant and nightlife management to unravel the secrets of pitching to national on-premise chains.
Conversation: Pitching to National On-Premise Chains
Sid: Let's dissect the pre-qualification criteria for making an impactful pitch to national on-premise accounts such as Hyatt, Mortons Steakhouse, and Olive Garden.
Evan: One of the key points that most accounts are looking for is national distribution which is already set up. For brands to say that on-premise is something for them to look to do in the future does not work. Before they consider a brand, many of our clients want to see that a brand is already set in those states, already available and even have visibility into what that distribution network looks like. They want to know if it's through a larger distributor like Southern Glazers, RNDC, or Breakthru Beverage. They want that already set up, they want an insight into what the national price looks like, which is a big thing. Our clients are looking for state-by-state pricing out of the gate but they want to know what that national average price looks like so they have a benchmark going into the partnership. They want to know about that pricing in on-premise and off-premise. Some people are concerned about the brand’s presence in grocery stores, they might want something more esoteric or unique. They want something that is not going to be compared to something that is on store shelves. On the contrary, some people want something that is more visible, maybe it's a bourbon brand that is known and loved versus something that is out there that no one has ever heard of.
Sid: I understand that brands need national distribution before approaching large on-premise accounts but how important is it to be with large distributors like Glazers, the Millers/Coors, or Budweiser? Because many of the big distributors are approved by chains. A lot of the smaller distributors are not working with chain accounts on a state or national level. Does the effort of new vendor creation affect brands when doing a pitch? And what are your chances if you are with one of the small guys vs national scale distributors?
Evan: If your product is enticing enough then it will not matter if you are already with a national distributor or not. They will take the pains to register your product nationally. Chances are that they already love the product and are buying it from a smaller distributor in that state.
Image: IMI Clients
Sid: The question is, if a chain is not buying from a smaller distributor in that state, do they think, “I have to register a new vendor, it’s not worth the trouble, so forget about it.”
Evan: I don’t think so. National accounts will still sign up with a local distributor. There are a few instances when a small distributor may not have a large enough insurance policy to supply to a large account but that’s a very finite example.
Sid: What about case volume? If you are a 2000-case wine selling at $50 a bottle would national chains consider you? Or would they not even consider a brand that is selling 10,000 cases or less? Is there a minimum case number chains go for?
Evan: No, the amount of cases you have already sold is not an indicator for adoption or for interest by a national account. If they are interested in your wine, it is because that varietal is on trend and they are seeing metrics to show that it’s something popular. Other factors that weigh in are whether it is for the market and the price is right, then everything else can fall in line.
Sid: What makes a brand a really good qualifier? What are 3-4 points that make a brand a good candidate to be picked up - maybe case volume or having a brand ambassador? What are a few points in the deck that immediately shout yes to a buyer?
Evan: It depends on what the client is looking for. Some people want to see data and awards are important to some buyers. Some chains want to see metrics showing that this brand makes sense. They want to see if the brand has a good story that their salespeople, whether it’s their server or a hotel worker can tell.
Sid: What are the criteria that a national account buyer would look for, for a brand to be considered in their program?
Evan: Distribution on their networks, not necessarily through a large national distributor, something smaller is usually fine. National average pricing is something buyers will want to know before signing on to a brand. Most buyers know that in some states it’s going to be significantly higher, like if it's a controlled state. In California and Texas, prices will be lower. I think for any brand, buyers want something that tells a story that they can go back to, it makes it easier for their staff to sell it. Whether it's whiskey, wine, or tequila, it's all the same, the story is there to sell a product on-premise, especially if the product is not already known to customers just by looking at a brand.
Sid: What kind of data does a brand need to collect and show to prospective buyers?
Evan: Nielsens CGA data, Data Central. There are a lot of platforms out there that showcase data that's important, to show how a brand performs in the on-premise.
Sid: So they want to see data that is like a case study of how a brand has done in another chain?
Evan: Yes. Well, that’s another whole point that's important. Sometimes people want a brand that is a proven success story in steak houses, or lodging or people don’t want a success story in the hotel category. It is important to know what the buyer is looking for and ask those questions.
Going back to the stories - unless there’s a large national brand that has proven success, that people already know, having that story that their staff can tell is important. Knowing that it is a category of interest from a data set, if there’s a wine varietal that’s really on trend, then it’s easier to sell ‘Well here’s the wine varietal you want because…”
Sid: It’s usually difficult to get through chains, through the gatekeepers, buyers are not reachable to meet face to face. That’s where companies like yourself, and IMI come into play. Maybe you’re also one of the qualification criteria let’s say. So how can brands work with you, and what is the benefit of working with you? At the same time, what kind of things do you look for in bringing a supplier on board? Or introducing them to a buyer?
Evan: Our clients are always looking for new brands, new suppliers, and new stories that they can bring to their guests. When you are working with an agency like ours, we’re happy to provide insights to suppliers about what our clients are looking for. Maybe it’s as simple as understanding the program timing, and what that RFP cycle looks like, maybe there are other criteria about samples, or things like that that we can offer up about what a buyer needs, wants to see, and other anecdotal information that can be helpful to make the introduction.
Sid: As a supplier, you have a meeting with the buyer, what kind of things do you want to cover, what kind of data points do you want to talk to the buyer about? You got the final chance - what does a great meeting look like?
Evan: Yes, great question. You want to make sure that you talk about pricing and distribution, even if there are gaps in your distribution. Maybe you’re able to hit most of the markets, and if you’ve already got a meeting in those then great, but make sure you’re transparent about those challenges in your distribution. It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have distribution in those two markets, but in the next 6 to 12 months you will have it covered. Include statistics about the category your product is in. Maybe it's a mezcal, a mezcal is really on trend, and an agave is really popular as well. Sharing those insights helps reinforce your brand’s position. Even if it’s not specific to your item, it’s about the category that you’re in, and that’s helpful.
Sid: So you have to sell the category, show that it’s an upswing category.
Sid: What about the support, the programming?
Evan: Not every client wants to see it, but showcasing some activations that are unique to your brand, whether it's a pour priority or for a restaurant, something that is unique that you can do, something with your brand should be highlighted. Giving some examples, maybe you have a unique POS item that goes along with the brand, something that goes beyond sunglasses or a pen. Just tools that the buyer can use to bring a brand to life and see if it’s successful.
Sid: Tell us why clients should work with IMI.
Evan: IMI is the largest fiduciary third-party beverage marketing agency. Our clients make their own decisions, all of our programs are customized, and it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. The way we work with one client may be very different from the way we work with someone else, based on their needs and expectations of what we do and how we can help them. We’re a fiduciary agency in the sense that we’re not connected to any liquor, beer, or wine companies. If our clients are looking for a particular wine to fill a gap, we will show everything that is available at that price point from that AVA, that has the correct distribution that they’re looking for. It won’t be something that we have a secondary agenda for.
Sid: Can you give us any particular examples of services that you offer to clients?
Evan: Quite frequently we help with the RFP process and supplier relationship management, we also help with activation ideas, mixology, and creative services. And, certainly the number one thing these days is technology and training. Everyone is challenged these days in on-premise or off-premise with training new staff. We have amazing new technological resources that can help train your workforce, whether that's in a hotel environment or servers, whether it's in room service, concessions, or airlines. We do the work to engage your workforce and make them knowledgeable about the brands that are part of the program.
Sid: Let’s talk about trends. What are your clients buying more in 2024 and what are three items that they are buying less?
Evan: People are buying less beer, people are buying more spirits, agave specifically. They’re buying more of low and no-alcohol products. Wine is somewhere in the middle, and wine is holding still.
Sid: Sounds like a big opportunity for low and no-alcohol products, mezcal, and tequilas right now.
Sid: What is your take on RTDs?
Evan: I think RTDs have an increasing presence. Historically RTDs did well in retail stores and grab-and-go areas. With increasing labor charges, even though you don’t see a bartender cracking open an Old fashioned ready to serve cocktail from a can but still, in hotels people want to see a premium offering, maybe something that they can enjoy in the lobby of a property or take up to their room, or enjoy in their own terms. So I think ready to serve, as a category will continue to be successful.
Pitching to national on-premise chains is an art that goes beyond the liquid in the glass. With Evan Traub's experience and insights and Sid Patel's expertise at Beverage Trade Network, the journey becomes clearer. It's not just about the pitch; it's about crafting a narrative that resonates in the ever-evolving world of beverages.
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