Shelf Life: Getting local products into Meijer ‘slow, but worth it’

It’s one thing to launch a product. The next is finding somewhere to sell it.

For many entrepreneurs, Meijer is the big catch. Getting product on the shelves of the 246-store Midwest supermarket chain is steeped in bureaucracy, but well worth the time and effort, they say.

Old Mission Bakery has its product in five Meijer stores: Traverse City, Acme, Manistee, Ludington and Mt. Pleasant. “We’re working on more, but it’s a bureaucracy, so it takes a long time,” said Pete Brown, who owns the company with his wife Pearl.

One thing that helps is having a store manager in your corner, said Becky Bronkema, director of merchandising for the grocery giant. “Many times, the best requests for working with a local company come to us from our stores as local companies start a conversation with our store directors,” she said. “Our team members know which local companies resonate because they are part of the communities in which they work.”

The effort is worth the work, Pete Brown said. “It’s kept us in business,” he said. “Having outlets is key. Meijer in Traverse City can sell as much as two or three little stores in a day.”

Jon Plummer from Moomers Homemade Ice Cream said his family’s ice cream operation was able to get into several area stores but tried and failed to get into Meijer.

“Six years ago I called and got hold of the frozen food buyer. I asked, ‘What’s the procedure?’ and got brushed off. So I put it on the back burner,” he said.

Photos by Cathy Boissoneau

With distribution through numerous other local outlets and lines that typically snake out the door in the summer, Moomers didn’t need Meijer to survive. But then Meijer reached out to Moomers. “That fall they called me,” Plummer said.

Meijer had begun receiving requests from customers for Moomers ice cream, which helped start the process. That, and lots of paperwork, Plummer said. “We had to get into the Meijer vendor program. That was a few months of paperwork. They approved 14 flavors,” he said.

Today Moomers ice cream takes up two shelves of pints, plus an end cap of pints and quarts. Moomers is now in the Traverse City store (which Plummer said he was told is the busiest of its stores per square foot) along with Acme and Manistee.

It’s a little different for alcoholic beverages. “We’re more reliant on distributors,” said Keirsun Scott, marketing and communications manager for Stormcloud Brewing Company in Frankfort. “Meijer is a great supporter of Michigan beer. We’ve been very thankful.”

Stormcloud beers can now be found in 25 Meijer stores across the state.

Chris Fredrickson, one of three owners of Traverse City Whiskey, declined to provide details about his company’s entry into Meijer. He did say he feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Meijer stores, adding that the company has been able to get its products into stores region-wide. “People ask where they can get a bottle and it’s easy to say, ‘Go check out your local Meijer,’” he said.

Bronkema said it’s important for Meijer to offer local products to fulfill its customers’ expectations as well as providing opportunities for new and different items.

“A great local program to us features products that customers have grown to know and love in their communities and become a surprise and delight offering at our stores,” she said. “We are always keeping our own eyes peeled for local vendors we believe would fill a gap in our current assortments, as well as taking requests from the community to carry local items.”

Vendors interested in reaching out can go to Meijer’s vendor portal (found at the bottom of homepage under the business section) and fill out a prospective vendor form to get in touch with the company at the corporate level. With vendor forms, UPC and sku codes and delivery of the products, there is a lot involved with making the Meijer connection happen.

But for those who are able to, selling their wares in a Meijer store – or better yet, many Meijer stores – is a huge boon for business. “It’s a slow process, but it’s worth it,” said Brown.