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Gelson’s Gives Small Producers a Shot at the Big Time

Regional grocer invites area suppliers to pitch products at inaugural event
Gelsons
Photograph courtesy of Gelsons

Local is the hottest ticket in town, but for Gelson’s Markets of Encino, Calif., it’s a way to connect with customers and community while growing its business.

In a bid to expand its local offerings and be first to market with the best that Southern California has to offer, the grocer is hosting “Local Discoveries,” an entrepreneurial event that invites local innovators within 50 miles of a Gelson’s store to pitch their products to Gelson’s buyers at its Santa Fe Springs distribution center June 6. 

“We’ve been focused on growing our local assortment this year,” John Bagan, Gelson’s chief merchandising officer, told WGB. “Our customers care deeply about the local community. Local means fresher. Local means better quality.”

According to Bagan, Gelson’s already offers about 2,000 local products in its 27 stores in Southern California. An A-frame sign outside the front entrance of each store lets shoppers know the number of both local products and organic products in the store. The sign is updated each week.

The local supplier pitch event is not only an opportunity for Gelson’s to identify new local items it believes will resonate with shoppers, but also to connect with and mentor smaller vendors looking to launch products in the grocery channel.

“A lot of smaller producers don’t have the experience,” Bagan says. “Our buyers help advise on packaging, placement of the UPC code, and really assist vendors on how to bring their product to market. This is traditionally very difficult with big business. Because of our size, we can provide help and take the time to move people through the process.”

An estimated 60 local contenders will each be given 25 minutes to pitch their products to senior Gelson’s buyers. Applicants are encouraged to explain what distinguishes the product, including attributes. 

In addition to helping selected products reach consumers through coveted shelf space in all of its stores, Gelson’s will also actively promote the winners in-store, online and through local media. 

Gelson’s has a “long history” of fostering local brands, says Bagan, who points to California-based companies that launched in its stores, including Broguiere’s Milk and Eggnog, Califia Farms, McConnell’s Ice Cream, Health-Ade Kombucha, Carlsbad Water and El Nopalito Tortilla Chips.

Often, when Gelson’s is first to market with local brands, the products are exclusive to its stores as well. The grocer promotes local in-store using shelf tags and signage with a brief description of the producer. It also promotes new local items on endcaps.

“In general, shoppers crave community, local, authenticity and personalization,” says Bagan. “In a way, local is personalization.”

What will Gelson’s buyers look for on pitch day? The grocer seeks local products that “get the Southern California lifestyle,” says Bagan, who names top food and beverage trends, including plant-based, clean ingredients, dairy-free and gluten-free as especially compelling for the marketplace.

Southern California suppliers interested in the Gelson’s pitch day event are invited to sign up by June 1 at https://glsns.us/LocalDiscoveries.

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