Ever been excited to see a Greek product you know and love hit your local supermarket, only to see it disappear within a month?
This is sadly becoming the norm as Greek importers find the going tough when trying to enter the supermarket game.

For many, a way in is working with just a select number of stores, capitalising on stores located in areas populated with a lot of Greek Australians.

Currently big Greek brands like soft drink company Loux and Ion confectionery have hit the shelves around Victoria, getting some shelf space
in the ethnic food section of Coles.

But as supermarket giants make room for their own home brands and local distributors fail in keeping up with supermarket demands, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep the products on the shelves.

Only the brands that have a world recognisable name, a lot of marketing money in their arsenal and an understanding of supermarket expectations live to tell the tale.

John Vasilopoulos, a former Coles employee with more than 40 years experience working as a district assistant manger and local importer himself, has seen many Greek products come and go. He’s brought many successful Greek brands to Coles, including Minerva Olive Oil, a product that is still on the
shelves today despite strong competition.

In his time at Coles, Mr Vasilopoulos says the main reason Greek importers fail to crack the supermarket industry is because they underestimate the costs involved and what the supermarket expects.

“If you go in there and you’ve got a million dollars and you say, ‘listen, I want to build this to the number one or the number two seller in your stores’ and you put a million dollars on the table then maybe they can talk to you,” Mr Vasilopoulos says.

“It takes money to do this sort of thing.”

Considering it costs upwards of $20,000 to just place a product in the supermarket catalogue, many importers are shocked at the up-front costs.

Most products can’t rely on word of mouth to be moving off the shelves. They all require strong marketing campaigns, which is why multinational companies with huge cash flow can grab so much of the market share.

Marketing sadly isn’t the forte of many Greek companies, and with most of the cost slugged from the importers, it’s easy to be spat out of the market.

Mr Vasilopoulos says that around one in two Greek brands fail to get traction in supermarkets.

“I say to the importers, you need to know your own strength, because it takes a lot of money to get (established). If you don’t promote and you don’t sell you will disappear,” Mr Vasilopoulos says.

He says importers should have a clear idea about what they are willing to spend, what they expect to do with their brand for 12 months and should be able to answer a lot of questions at the supermarket’s range review.

“The first thing you need to know is the range review which happens every 12 months. The supermarket reviews who is selling, who is bringing in new lines, what their costings are, how many cartons the importer can bring.”

An unavoidable problem is the increase of supermarket home brand products. Shelf space is now much harder to sustain, when supermarkets are pushing their own home brand products.

“They now say, OK, we’ve got Greek Ioli water there but with that space we can put our home brand products and make five times the sales and five times the profit,” Mr Vasilopoulos says.

“We’ve got home brand suppliers weeding out all the third place suppliers.”

It’s a tough market to break, which is why many importers rely on the Greek Australian community to support their products. While many have come and gone, some are still doing a huge trade.

Misko pasta (a subsidiary of Barilla) has maintained its presence, despite it being moved from the pasta section of Coles to the ethnic food section in some supermarkets.

The deli products have had a roaring trade for years, with kalamata olives and feta a staple in many Australian households. But to make sure those products we love and enjoy remain on the shelves, Mr Vasilopoulos says it pays to ask the store managers to bring back products.

“If they can’t find Luzz or Misko or feta go and ask the manager. If they get a hundred queries Coles or Woolworths might look into it.”

A range of new and more established Greek products on the shelves at Coles.

It’s been a very strong year for Greek exports to Australia, with a 31 per cent rise since the same time last year. The October figures for this year show that the value of Greek imported goods to Australia amassed $165 million, just $3 million shy of the 2013 yearly total despite there being two months of figures to go.

The biggest imports remained pharmaceutical products (up 36 per cent to $26 million), vegetables, fruit and nuts (up 20 per cent to $22 million) and aluminium (up 25 per cent to $15 million). The food and drink industry was one of the strongest and biggest exports to Australia, with new exporters keen to enter the market.

Alcohol was a popular new export, with a number of new exporters getting into the trade, with a 2 per cent rise in new distributors in the last year.

There were also big increased in exports in fertilisers, games and sporting equipment, fabrics, ceramics and wood. The Greek state commissioner for trade in Australia,

Vaianos Oreopoulos-Kelenis says the industry is showing improved health.

“It’s impressive by any country’s standards,” he told Neos Kosmos. “We can see an empowerment of the export trade of Greece.”

Over the past six years, the amount of exports hitting Australian shores from Greece has more than doubled.