Last week’s industry-changing PITCHMe event went off without a hitch, with ten finalists presenting their products to the star-lined panel of grocery experts from Foodstuffs North Island, including Foodstuffs CEO Chris Quin, Sue Hamilton, Belinda Freeman, Morgan McCann, Chris Anderson, Matt Donn, Anthony Joseph, Rebecca Tuhakaraina, and Sharon Cavanagh.
The PITCHMe initiative was created by SupermarketNews, who are dedicated to bringing smaller businesses and artisan products to the fore. “A forum where smaller suppliers can meet with such an important buying team is a bold, innovative initiative,” said Tania Walters, managing director of SupermarketNews. “It removes the more formal protocols and allows producers the opportunity to build relationships with buyers.”
Of the 52 semi-finalists sent forward to Foodstuffs for consideration, these entries were chosen for their innovation and potential. The businesses are all on the verge of growth, and their products taste good – it’s the details the panel was there to work out.
“It’s incredibly important to us that we provide products which excite our customers and meet their needs – even ones they haven’t yet thought of,” commented David Stewart, General Manager of Merchandise at Foodstuffs North Island.
The format was like Dragon’s Den, with nine panellists lined up across the room. However, instead of breathing fire the panel offered words of support and advice, leaving the suppliers confident in their business moving forward.
Flavia Spena, the special category Inspire+ Artisan Award PITCHMe winner, said of her company Viavio: “We’re at a point where we need guidance from Foodstuffs. They know where to stock our product, and they understand our demographic.”
In fact, understanding the brand and the backstory was something the judging panel focused on. “We see PITCHMe as a great way to help creative New Zealand producers to take a leap of faith, get their house in order and inspire us with innovative, sustainable and inspiring new products,” commented Stewart. The event was a win-win: the suppliers were pleased with the guidance offered, and the judging panel walked away feeling inspired and excited about the state of food innovation in New Zealand.
“It also gives me great heart that there are so many people creating something to genuinely inspire our customers,” commented Foodstuffs CEO Chris Quin.
There is no supreme winner of PITCHMe, and all finalists will be considered for entry into Foodstuffs supermarkets. The panel isn’t looking to buy a business, rather to help small ones grow.
“We see PITCHMe as a great way to help creative New Zealand producers to take a leap of faith, get their house in order and inspire us with innovative, sustainable and inspiring new products,” said Stewart.
“They were a really approachable, lovely bunch,” commented Kookie Haus’s Jenna Chamberlain, whose cookies were some of the most devoured items on the day.
All finalists were questioned on how they could integrate with Foodstuffs stores. Packaging, commercial viability, and production capacity were all more important than taste on the day. Although the panel was there to help on the day, it will also be sending more detailed feedback to each supplier.
Leanne Peterson of Whitianga company Chocolates Are Us said she enjoyed the feedback already received. “It wasn’t 100 percent positive, and there are things they want me to work on,” she commented. “But that’s why we came here.”
Although each pitch only lasted for 15 minutes, they were vital. It’s very rare for so many Foodstuffs buyers and decision-makers to be gathered in one place. Suppliers came from as far as Christchurch and Australia for their moment to shine, and were unanimously encouraged by the experience.
Sanj Kant from Waikare Kitchen was “buzzing,” and Emma-Jane’s Jared Hall described the engagement as “awesome”.
“They want our product for a Christmas launch,” said Hall. “I have a lot of work to do today!”
Whether they spent the rest of the day working or celebrating – all PITCHMe finalists found the experience re-invigorating.