Food In Canada

Recipe to Retail: How to grow sales with store surveys

By Birgit Blain   

Business Operations distribution marketing

Too often food processors and brand owners are chained to their desks firefighting and buried in day-to-day tasks. Scheduling time to leave the confines of the plant and office to visit stores provides a much-needed perspective. Store surveys yield a wealth of insights to translate into sales. Taking photographs, provided retailers don’t object, is an easy way to keep a record for further analysis.

For brands with limited human resources, services are provided by third-party sales and store support agencies. However, they view the category through a sales, distribution, and merchandising lens. Therefore, it’s important for brands to visit stores regularly.


Conducting store surveys prior to retailer category reviews affords the opportunity to share insights that can influence customer decisions.


Category overview

Since category sets are dynamic, regular store surveys capture a live snapshot of the landscape. Assess whether the category is well developed by evaluating brand assortment, sku count, sizes, flavours, pricing, and private label presence. Identifying underdeveloped categories and gaps in the retailer’s portfolio can open doors for a compelling offering.

Competitive landscape

Getting a handle on the competition is critical for brand success. Compare the points of parity and points of difference with your product offering, packaging, positioning, placement, pricing, and promotions.

Private label

Suss out whether there are opportunities to supply the retailer with store brand items. How prominent is private label and what percentage of the category does it currently represent? Does the program cover all the tiers: value, national brand equivalent, premium and gourmet?


How well does your brand’s design stand out on shelf adjacent to competitors? Are flavours clearly differentiated to make it easy for shoppers? Is the container size appropriate for shelf spacing, or are oversized products relegated to the top or bottom shelf? Also scan other areas of the store for packaging innovations.


Evaluate the pricing landscape to determine if your products are in line, over or under priced. Review promotional activity, noting the depth, duration and frequency of discounts and what types of offers are most common in the category.


Examine how the category is merchandised. Check where your brand is positioned in the planogram and if it’s easy for shoppers to find. Are brands blocked or split into segments? If retail-ready packaging is commonplace, consider offering it too.

Quality assurance

Cues picked up in store can flag a potential quality problem.


Out-of-stocks are sales killers. Check on-shelf product availability and ensure there are no missing shelf labels.

Retailer strategies

Every retailer operates and merchandises their stores differently, so it’s important to visit every banner. It enables brand owners to gain insights about brand positioning, target customer, product offering, the role of store brands, merchandising, pricing, marketing, etc.

Shopper insights

Being in store opens up the possibility of observing and engaging with shoppers to gain insights into their decision-making process.

Walk the entire store

It’s also important to look outside your category, examining other store departments like fresh, frozen, and centre store. Doing so can unlock potential by spotting gaps in the offering and opportunities for new listings, cross-merchandising and cross-promotions.

It is highly beneficial to cast a critical eye over your own brand and product portfolio. Store surveys allow you to do just that. Observations reveal useful information to apply to product life cycle management, sku rationalization, new product development, packaging design, branding, and marketing initiatives.

Ultimately, store surveys enable brand owners to capitalize on new opportunities and resolve issues that threaten listings, thereby contributing to sales growth.

As a CPG food consultant, Birgit Blain helps clients think strategically to build a sustainable brand. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice. Contact her at

This column was originally published in the February/March 2024 issue of Food in Canada.

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