How do you sell related items as part of a package?

Food distribution representatives are advocating the philosophy of cross-merchandising. They believe that it is not enough to demonstrate a center-of-the-plate item, rather other products that may highlight the main product such as sauces and pies should be suggested to give the customer an idea of how to merchandise the product. At the same time, a customer should not be forced into complying with the cross-merchandising concept.

Here’s what the Rep of the Month does with his accounts:

* Joseph J. Skwara Woodhaven Foods Philadelphia

The answer to this question is common sense. You can’t just throw a slab of beef in front of somebody and say, “Okay, this is it.” If you throw down that slab, you also have to go down a list of different ways that it could be served. In the process, of course, you’re utilizing different products.

I try not to get too pushy when seeking to cross-merchandise items. I tease customers a little bit with some ideas and possibilities. If they take the ball, we can both run with it. But, if they’re really not interested, I’ll just leave it at that.

Any center-of-the-plate item creates a base that you can build on. How the item is prepared determines what goes along with it. You can go into whether it’s sauteed or stir-fried with olive oil or peanut oil. Then you talk about possible side dishes: vegetables, starch, salad, and condiments.

And here are three other approaches:

* David Boss C&W Food Service Tallahassee, Fla.

For me, cross-merchandising has become second nature. One must always keep in mind the items that are closely related to the center of the plate. It’s always nice to sell a steak restaurant its boxed beef, but it would be a crime for me to leave without asking for their steak-sauce, potato, or vegetable business.

One of the easiest times to utilize cross-merchandising is around the holidays. Everyone buys turkeys at Thanksgiving, mostly on price and size. Maybe I won’t have the best price on the turkeys, but I might have the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies to sell them. I may even be able to sell the account carving utensils or displays if they have a buffet line.

At the same time, I would try to sell a value-added product such as marinated turkey breast. It may help set the account apart from others and gives you an opportunity to sell a less price-sensitive item.

As a result of cross-merchandising, account penetration can be achieved. It all works toward the goal of addressing customers’ true needs.

* Tom Woppler B&B Food Distributors Terre Haute, Ind.

I often cross-merchandise in sampling. It does no good to show a center-of-the-plate item unless you’re going to show a total plate presentation. You tie your center-of-the-plate item to a vegetable item, or maybe a side dish that the customer doesn’t think of. That way, you can tie two or three items together. You try to pick products that the account doesn’t buy from you.

You have to get a customer or prospect to buy you, not so much the product. If they know that I’m bringing them an item that only I know they can use, the next time I bring something I don’t get a quick rejection.

* Bill Crawford Standard Foods Hurricane, W. Va.

It’s invaluable to the operator to tell him how to merchandise the whole plate. Not just the country-style ribs, but how you would prepare them and what would go well with them. This means becoming more of a sales consultant instead of just a salesman.

As order entry becomes more automated, there will be more emphasis on helping the operator much like a dietitian helps nursing homes and hospitals. Reps will be pressured to be more creative on plate presentations and showing operators how to make money. This will happen in an environment of operators being less willing to deal with many distributors. So specialist distributors won’t be as important as they once were.

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