Death Wish Coffee Co. of Round Lake burst on to the national scene with a 30-second TV ad during the 2016 Super Bowl. Next month, it will help meet the resulting demand in far-flung places like Arizona and Ohio in a new brick-and- mortar way: on Walmart store shelves.
Both steps in its story came from competitions: It won a small-business contest sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks to appear in a Super Bowl ad; it then won space on Walmart’s shelves through its Open Call program, a pledge by the retail giant to add more Made in America products.
Death Wish, founded as an online seller of what it bills as the world’s strongest coffee (the caffeine jolt comes from the combination of Arabica and Robusta beans), has been doing business through its own website and via Amazon.
It then added a physical retail presence in regional supermarket chains – Hannaford, Price Chopper/Market 32 and ShopRite in the Northeast, and Safeway in California, Hawaii and Nevada.
Now it gets to fill in in between through Walmart’s vast store network.
The opportunity came when Death Wish secured a spot in Walmart’s 2017 Open Call class, a chance for local entrepreneurs to get their “big break,” as the retailer describes it.
The program began in 2013 with Walmart pledging to spend $250 billion over 10 years to feature more U.S.-made products. Each year since then, it puts out a call in March for companies interested in participating, winnowing them to the best on hand and inviting those to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., in June for meetings with buyers.
Everyone selected to attend gets their product on walmart.com; some also get coveted shelf space at Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Death Wish owner Mike Brown, quoted in promotional material for this year’s Open Call, said the break his company got through the program “has been key to our brand’s extensive national brick-and- mortar retail expansion, allowing us to substantially grow beyond our e-commerce roots.”
Although I couldn’t get through to Brown this week, I took a look at the video Walmart posted on the 2017 event’s 90-minute general session, a mix of inspirational stories, facts about the program and company cheerleading.
Walmart expects its 10-year commitment will yield 1 million jobs, 250,000 directly and 750,000 indirectly, according to an outside consultant’s study.
The company says that behind price, product sourcing is important to Walmart shoppers.
“For our customers, Made in America equals jobs in America,” one company executive told the 2017 group. But this being Walmart, price is important, too.
Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., congratulated the 2017 class on being invited to Bentonville, telling them to “relish it.”
Then he got down to brass tacks, asking them to look at their business plans and figure out, “What can you do differently to deliver even more value to our customers, take out more costs, or accelerate the multi-channel.”
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]
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