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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 6 years ago

Winn or lose

Winn-Dixie wants to sell more local fare. That means opportunities for hungry startups.
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Javi Nava sought to figure out what could occupy his time as his 22-year career with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office wound down.

But he was constantly distracted reminiscing about his mother's cooking growing up -- a Mexican menu completely handmade, right down to the tortillas. So with his mother as inspiration, Nava worked every free moment to perfect a salsa recipe that was a hit with fellow deputies. He later sold the salsa at farmers markets and at mom-and-pop retail stores.

Now Nava has a chance to expand sales of Javi's Salsa exponentially, courtesy of a Winn-Dixie program that creates a fast track to shelves in more than 150 regional locations. Called Winn-Local, the grocery store chain's parent, Southeastern Grocers, launched the program in January 2014, first in Mobile, Ala., and later in Jacksonville.

Local companies apply for a chance to make a presentation in front of Winn-Dixie executives in an effort to convince them their products -- like Javi's Salsa -- deserve a spot on the shelves.

“Space on our shelves, obviously, is at a premium,” says Nicole Hatfield, senior manager of local business for Southeastern Grocers, the nation's fifth-largest grocery story chain. “It really takes the entire company's commitment to make space available for anything, but it's not always about just sales and profit.”

The 10-minute presentations, like what happened in June in Tampa, go beyond numbers on a ledger, Hatfield says. It's also about stories, the kind that can differentiate one salsa, for example, from another.

Nava, in being different, surprised the executives during his 10-minute pitch, when a mariachi band he brought serenaded the group.

“When I started creating my salsa, I wanted to make something I knew would honor my mother,” Nava says. “You know, most Mexicans won't even use seasonings like oregano. But my mother did, and I wanted something I knew she would approve of.”

The initial batches of Javi's Salsa were made out of Nava's Brandon home. Now he uses a corporate kitchen, an outsourced facility that can manufacture food products to FDA standards.

Nava sells about 100 cases of salsa a month. If Winn-Dixie chooses Javi's Salsa for shelves, Nava expects to produce 10 times that in sales. And beyond more sales of salsa, Nava seeks to prove nothing is impossible, even for someone who immigrated to the country as a young boy from Mexico.

“All my life I've been told things have been impossible, but I knew otherwise,” he says. “I became a citizen, I joined the sheriff's office, I've had a great life with a great family ... all things that people have said was impossible.

“You just have to work real hard, and you need a little bit of luck, so that once you make those right connections, nothing is impossible.”

Stand Out
The first Winn-Local event in Tampa drew more than 60 companies from the Gulf Coast and Central Florida. All entries vied for a spot on Winn-Dixie store shelves.

Nicole Hatfield, senior manager of local business for Winn-Dixie's parent company, Southeastern Grocers, has some advice for any small business trying to get on a big retailers' shelves. Hatfield's tips include:

Focus on packaging: “People tend to buy with their eyes, and that's the first thing they see on the shelf,” she says. “You need something that's going to pop off the shelf, and not just look like everything else out there.”

Have a marketing plan: “This is something a lot of people don't think about when they're in smaller stores, but in places like Winn-Dixie, you're competing with companies that put a lot of money in advertising,” Hatfield says. “What makes your product different? What's the story your product is trying to tell?”

Elevator speech: “We give everyone 10 minutes, but even if you're not doing a program like this, you have to be able to pitch the key components of your product to people succinctly,” Hatfield says. “Keep it simple, and know your biggest selling points.”

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