Getting Your Food Product into Chain Retail: What does it take?

Getting Your Food Product into Chain Retail: What does it take?

May 22, 2020 By

Consider this hypothetical situation: you’ve got this great food product, maybe it’s one of the best on the market, or perhaps it’s a one of a kind with no real competition to speak of. You’ve got a great marketing strategy and almost all of the mom and pop shops and smaller retailers are carrying the various flavors of your brand. You’ve achieved more than your ex-significant others ever thought possible. So, what is the next step in your quest for retail domination?

Chain Retail stores of course! You’ve been inside one of these stores or restaurants at least once in your life – Walmart, Costco, McDonald’s, Loblaws, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the list goes on. Retailers such as these sell and service more people in a day than some local markets can in one year’s time. Today, we will be exploring the basic and more detailed requirements of getting your product onto the shelves and becoming a preferred supplier to a chain retail store.

The Food Safety Program

The first question that always comes up in the initial line of assessment from a chain retail brand is “do you have a food safety plan in place for your facility?”. As a minimum, any chain retail store will at least request that a supplier has a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Plan and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in place. One of the biggest risks for chain retail brands are the recalls precipitated by either illness or injury associated with products sold within their stores. Having a food safety program in place assures the retailer that you have processes in place to help ensure your products are safe for consumption.

GFSI Certification

Depending on your product and competition, sometimes not just any food safety program is enough. The highest level of food safety standards in the world are those associated with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). If you are the food industry, you’ve likely already heard all of these acronyms before – SQF (Safe Quality Food), BRC (Brand Reputation Compliance), IFS (International Featured Standard), FSSC (Food Safety System Certification) 22000, among others. SQF is the most recognized standard in the United States and Australia, with BRC being well recognized in Europe. In Canada, it is an even mix between certification standards with BRC and SQF leading the way. These certification standards take a further step in providing assurance to retailers because they include more stringent requirements including those associated with not just safety, but the quality of the final product.

Product Certifications

Based on your product composition and process of manufacture, some large chain retailers may require that you prove any claims associated with your product. This could include claims such as organic, gluten-free, Non-GMO, halal, and kosher. A retailer may ask you to have a certification body conduct a certification audit to verify these claims. These may be in the form of on-site assessments or documentation submissions and reviews.


Just when you thought that there couldn’t possible be more standards that you’d have to meet, certain suppliers have their own audits or addendum’s to GFSI audits. These audits and addendum’s may not all be satisfied by your existing food safety plans or certifications and in some circumstances make items that in other standards are optional, mandatory. For example, while a risk assessment may identify that your process does not need a metal detector or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a supplier audit or addendum may require that you have these in place regardless of assessment.

Process Changes

In some instances, if you are planning on making a private label product or commodity specifically for a retailer, you may be asked to make operational changes necessary to follow their guidelines, and prove compliance. Instances may include increased / additional testing requirements, more stringent critical limits for sanitizers or metal detectors, and completing verification checks more frequently. To mitigate your product’s risk to their supply chain, brand retailers may also request many additional checks of your process and include site visits and/or audits from their supplier approval team.

dicentra has worked on both sides, assisting retailers with their supplier approval process as well as preparing our clients for Retailer and GFSI audits. This makes us experts in understanding the requirements and getting suppliers approved. If you require any assistance in regards to getting your product or process set up to meet chain retail requirements, feel free to contact us today!