This week we received an email from a reader asking what happened to Bibi Caffe, a line of elegant, imported Italian sodas we reviewed in 2007.
She wanted to know why the line was no longer sold in the USA, and asked if there was “any way to get it at all?”
If “at all” includes taking a trip to Italy to bring it back, there is a solution. Otherwise, Bibi Caffe joined the ranks of products, imported as well as American-made, that are discontinued by stores.
Here’s why products are discontinued:
1. The biggest problem manufacturers have is getting shelf space for their products. There are 20,000 new supermarket products introduced every year. Where will they fit?
The 20,000 new products include variations of existing brands, such as Chocolate Flavored Instant Cream Of Wheat cereal and the latest flavor of Diet Coke, as well as more niche products. (We once came across Brown Sugar Sweet & Low).
Bibi Caffe Italian soft drinks are packed with flavor and not too sweet. Photo by B.A. Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.
2. It has nothing to do with how good (or mediocre) the product is. As the expression goes, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” To maximize profit, retailers need to optimize their shelf space, which includes inventory turns (the reorder rate or other measure) and profit margins. A product that turns stays on the shelf. A product that doesn’t turn fast enough can be discontinued to provide space for a product that will hopefully turn more (and generate more sales and profits).
Products that don’t meet sales goals are discontinued by the manufacturer. So even if something sells well in your area, if it isn’t as popular elsewhere, it may be discontinued.
3. Manufacturers pay to be on the shelves of chain supermarkets. These fees are called slotting allowances, and every product pays them—even the most popular products. The fees vary greatly depending on the product, manufacturer and market. But for a new product, the initial slotting fee can be $25,000 per item at a regional chain, or five times that for a large chain. And that fee is for one item in one chain!
In addition to slotting fees, retailers may also charge promotional, advertising and stocking fees. Unfortunately, the whole system works against small manufacturers that don’t generate the volume to pay such fees, and don’t have the marketing muscle to promote their products to create the volume.
Thanks to the Internet, small manufacturers can sell from their websites. But Biba Caffe is imported and the glass bottles are heavy to ship. Even if the company sold it online, only moguls would pay to have it shipped from Italy.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
If you really love something, become an evangelist. Tell everyone. Email your friends. Add it to your Facebook page. Blog about it. Tweet it. Start a grassroots movement to generate initial purchases, and hope that everyone loves (and buys it) it as much as you do.
Pitch it to the buyer at a specialty food store. Specialty stores (also called gourmet stores), such as Bi-Rite in San Francisco, Dean & Deluca in New York City and Fox & Obel in Chicago, delight in introducing new products to their customers.
Generate some publicity for it. If you can buy the product, see what you can do to get it some attention. This is similar to the first point, but it takes substantially more effort—unless you’re a food publicist with a list of every food reporter and producer.
Contact the company. If you can no longer find a product, contact the manufacturer, who should be able to tell you if and where it can be found.
And appreciate that, like fresh flowers, some things are ephemeral. Enjoy them while they last.