Everything a food founder needs to know about Listing Fees, Slotting Fees, and Free Fills

Key Messages

  1. A slotting or listing fee is a one-time charge that manufacturers pay to retailers for shelf placement.
  2. Slotting fee prices vary based on the product, category, and location.
  3. Manufacturers can reduce fees through marketing commitments, negotiation, high product desirability, and relationship building.

As a food or drink entrepreneur, it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of getting your products onto retail shelves.

This involves more than just creating great products; you must also navigate the world of listing fees, slotting fees, and free fills. In this guide, we’ll delve into these topics to help you maximize your brand’s potential and ensure your products get the visibility they deserve

What are Slotting and Listing Fees?

Supermarkets charge slotting fees

Slotting fees and listing fees are one-time payments that suppliers make to retailers to secure shelf space for their products. They often are an unpleasant surprise to new food or drink entrepreneurs, and they need to be understood to be managed.

These fees vary significantly depending on the retailer, the product category, and the store location. The purpose of these fees is to compensate retailers for the risk of carrying new products, as well as to cover the costs of stocking and merchandising those products.

How Much Do Retailers Charge on Average?

There is no standard fee structure, as each retailer has its own pricing model. However, some retailers are more transparent about their fees than others. For example, Loblaws and Sobeys, two major Canadian grocery chains, are known to charge listing fees ranging from a few hundred to (potentially) tens of thousands of dollars per SKU (stock-keeping unit).

Again, these fees can vary depending on factors such as the product category, the store location, and the expected sales volume.

It’s important to note that not all retailers charge listing fees. In fact, some major retailers, such as Costco and Walmart, do not charge any listing fees at all. This can be a significant advantage for smaller brands, as it allows them to enter the market without incurring high upfront costs.

What are Free Fills?

Free fills are an alternative to traditional slotting fees. Instead of paying a lump sum to the retailer, suppliers provide a certain number of free products (usually one case per store) for each store that carries their product. This practice is particularly common among smaller, independent retailers and can help new brands gain visibility and build relationships with retailers.

Free fills can be an attractive option for both suppliers and retailers, as they allow both parties to share the risk and reward of introducing a new product.

For suppliers, offering free fills can be a more cost-effective way to secure shelf space, particularly if they are confident in their product’s ability to sell. For retailers, accepting free fills can be a way to test out new products without committing to a large upfront investment.

Navigating the World of Listing Fees, Slotting Fees, and Free Fills

As a food or drink entrepreneur, it’s essential to be aware of the different fees and practices associated with getting your products onto retail shelves. To make the most of your marketing budget and ensure your products get the visibility they deserve, consider the following tips:

  1. Do your research: Before approaching retailers, research their fee structures and policies. This will help you understand what to expect and allow you to budget accordingly.
  2. Negotiate: Don’t be afraid to negotiate fees with retailers. While some fees may be non-negotiable, others might be more flexible. Remember, the goal is to build a mutually beneficial relationship with your retail partners.
  3. Consider alternative options: If traditional listing or slotting fees are too high, explore alternative options such as free fills or in-kind promotions. These can help you secure shelf space without breaking the bank.
  4. Monitor your product’s performance: Once your products are on the shelves, closely monitor their sales performance. This will help you identify any issues and make adjustments as needed, ensuring your products continue to perform well and generate a return on your investment.
  5. Build strong relationships with retailers: Finally, remember that strong relationships with retailers are key to your brand’s long-term success. By fostering open communication and working collaboratively, you can ensure that both parties benefit from a successful partnership.
  6. Invest in eye-catching packaging and displays: A well-designed packaging and attractive in-store displays can make a significant difference in capturing consumers’ attention. Allocate resources to create visually appealing packaging and invest in point-of-sale materials that reinforce your brand’s image and messaging.
  7. Leverage promotional opportunities: Work with retailers to take advantage of promotional opportunities, such as in-store demos, flyers, or special events. These activities can help drive consumer awareness and generate additional sales.
  8. Stay informed about industry trends: Keep up-to-date with the latest trends in food and beverage marketing, as well as retail best practices. This knowledge will enable you to stay competitive and adapt your strategies as needed.
  9. Measure your success: Regularly review your sales data and performance metrics to determine the effectiveness of your listing and merchandising efforts ← Read this article to learn more about merchandising. Use this information to refine your strategies and ensure your brand continues to grow.
  10. Seek expert advice: If you’re unsure about the best approach to listing fees, slotting fees, and free fills, consider consulting with an industry expert or hiring a food marketing agency. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and guidance to help you navigate the complex world of retail partnerships.

In conclusion, understanding listing fees, slotting fees, and free fills is crucial for food and beverage entrepreneurs looking to expand their reach and grow their businesses.

By researching retailer policies, negotiating fees, exploring alternative options, and building strong relationships, you can maximize your brand’s potential and ensure your products get the visibility they deserve.

Remember to invest in eye-catching packaging, leverage promotional opportunities, and measure your success to continuously refine your strategies and drive growth.

Understanding slotting fees in the US market

Slotting fees in the US are typically charged on a per SKU (stock keeping unit) basis and can vary depending on the product category, store location, and shelf positioning. The primary purpose of slotting fees is to cover the costs associated with stocking, merchandising, and managing inventory for new products.

Who Uses Slotting Fees?

Large chain stores, such as Walmart, Target, and Walgreens, commonly use slotting fees. However, smaller stores may use a marked-down version or not use them at all. It is essential for manufacturers to be aware of the standard slotting fees for a specific store before making a deal, as these fees can vary by location and shelf position.

Not all retailers use slotting fees. Trader Joe’s, a nationwide brand, does not charge slotting fees, allowing smaller and newer brands to access their shelves and provide a better shopping experience for their customers.

Regulation of Slotting Fees

In the US, slotting fees are regulated by the FDA by industry. Certain products, such as staple items like meats, cheeses, and flour, are generally exempt from paying slotting fees, while other categories are subject to fees. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also conducted studies on slotting fee regulations and their average costs. The most recent study was conducted in 2003, and regulations may have evolved since then.

Negotiating Slotting Fees

Manufacturers have the option to negotiate slotting fees with retailers. Some tactics for negotiating lower fees include changing shelving placement to a less expensive position, providing previous sales information to demonstrate the product’s potential to sell well, and monitoring sales performance in each location or retailer. If a product sells well, retailers may be more willing to negotiate better terms for slotting fees.

What are the potential dangers and drawbacks of free fills?

It’s crucial to be aware of the potential dangers that come with free fill programs. While they are often mandatory to introduce your products to new customers and retailers, they could turn out to be a significant financial strain on your business.

One of the primary risks of free fill programs is that they can negatively impact your cash flow. By providing a considerable quantity of products for free, you might find it challenging to allocate resources for other essential aspects of your business, such as marketing and advertising. This could result in your products sitting on the shelves without the necessary support, leading to slow sales and disappointing returns on your investment.

Also, participating in free fill programs may lead to lost opportunities for profitable sales. When you provide products for free, you could be missing out on selling those items to other customers who would have paid for them. In some cases, if your manufacturing capacity is limited, this could lead to backordering actual sales and affect your relationships with paying clients.

In addition, the success of a free fill program isn’t guaranteed. If your product doesn’t resonate with the target customers or if the retailer fails to promote it effectively, you might see little to no return on your investment, despite the high upfront costs.

To minimize these risks, it’s essential to perform a thorough cost-benefit analysis before participating in a free fill program. Consider the costs involved, the expected sales, and the retailer’s ability to sell your product. Be cautious when engaging in free fill programs, start with a small-scale approach, and closely monitor the results to ensure a favorable outcome for your business.

Want to go even deeper and learn more about Slotting Fees?

If you want to read more about slotting and listing fees, take a look at this collection of articles:

  1. “Slotting Fees and Slotting Allowances” – An informative article on NielsenIQ’s website that provides insights into slotting fees and allowances, including the factors that affect their pricing. [1]
  2. “How to Prepare for Slotting Fees and Effectively Promote Your Product with a Retailer” – A Forbes article that provides tips on how to prepare for slotting fees and promote your product effectively with a retailer. [2]
  3. “Warehouse Slotting” – A Microsoft Dynamics 365 article that explains the concept of warehouse slotting and how to set up location directives for it. [3]
  4. “Slotting Fees: A Complete Guide for Suppliers” – An article on the DotActiv blog that provides a comprehensive guide to slotting fees, including their pricing, benefits, drawbacks, and tips for negotiation. [4]

Learn more

Andreas Duess, food marketing expert
Andreas Duess, Food Marketing Expert

Whether you need help figuring out how to make your social media deliver positive ROI or your packaging actually support sales off shelf, or any other food-related challenge, we’re here for you. 

Book a free 15-minute discovery call with me. I am happy to discuss your food or drinks business and any questions you may have.

 No sales, no obligations, just straightforward advice. 

Other articles you may find useful

Our partners