How CPG Supplier Mekor 10Xed its Business by Listening Closely to Retail Buyers  5/29/2024

With Mekor CEO Sapan Nainani

I first met Sapan Nainani, CEO of Mekor Corp., at the ECRM Snack and Dry Grocery Session in 2016. It was his first session, and he was showcasing his line of teas including some functional teas for different wellness needs such as immunity-boosting, detoxing and losing weight. 

Fast forward to 2024. I met up with Nainani this past February in Jacksonville, where he was participating in ECRM’s Winter Coffee, Tea & Cocoa and Baking, Spices & Breakfast Foods Sessions. By this time Mekor had participated in 21 ECRM Sessions, and in addition to the teas, it now offers branded and private label products spanning more than a dozen categories such as snacks, condiments, supplements, non-dairy creamer, baking products, and beverages, and has products on the shelves at some of the largest retailers in the world.

“When we started with ECRM, we were probably selling in a few thousand doors,” he says. “Today our count has magnified significantly, at least 10X. We didn’t not achieve these results out of our first ECRM or our second ECRM; it was continuous meetings and taking customer feedback.”

Such stellar growth and product innovation is rare, and I wanted to uncover what it was Mekor was doing to drive such success – and how the company leveraged ECRM Sessions and retailer relationships to keep the wheels of innovation turning. From my video interview with Nainani at the Session, and subsequent conversations with him at the Mekor offices in New Jersey during my visit this past March, I learned that three key factors contributed to the company’s success over the past decade: 

  • Building relationships by consistently getting in front of buyers;
  • Listening closely to these buyers to best learn how he can serve them, and 
  • Having the patience and persistence to take a long-term approach to growth.

In this post we’re going to unpack how each of these factors worked for Mekor, and what readers can learn from them.

Building strong relationships

There is a saying that half the battle is just showing up. This is certainly true when it comes to building relationships with retailers. Nothing beats spending time with a buyer in-person to accomplish this, and Nainani leverages ECRM’s format and process to maximize his facetime with buyers. 

“You must continually work on developing your relationships with buyers,” says Nainani. “ECRM provides a great opportunity for this by creating structured meetings that you will not find at any expo. At an expo, it’s hit or miss; but at ECRM Sessions there is an agenda and you are getting your 10- or 20-minute slots of dedicated time, and the ECRM staff is there to help shepard those meetings along the way.”

Why is this consistency important for brands? For one thing, when a buyer meets with a brand year after year, they know it’s a solid company, not a one-shot deal that might be out of business the following year. Plus, it keeps that brand front of mind with the buyer for that time when an opportunity does open up. 

“Sometimes it can take a lot of time to close deals, particularly with national retail chains,” says Nainani. “It might not be the right time for a category review, it could be the planogram, or maybe they just onboarded another vendor and they are trying out a product set. But once you are coming to these sessions over a period of time the relationship does form. And the consistency of these meetings is really important because the buyer has a level of confidence of seeing the vendor, seeing their distribution grow, and they may eventually look for an area in which they can work with you.”

Building relationships at ECRM Sessions is certainly an area in which Nainani excels; in addition to the scheduled meetings, you will also find him at every networking opportunity, such as breakfasts, lunches, cocktails and dinners that are held on site, as well as in the audience at educational presentations, and participating in the roundtables held at most Sessions. 

If showing up and building relationships is half the battle, the other half is what you do with these relationships. And for Nainani, this means listening closely to buyers.

Listening to buyers

In every conversation with a buyer, Nainani seeks to uncover their pain points, so he can come up with solutions that address them. This, more than anything else, is the reason Mekor has successfully branched out into so many different lines of products. He doesn’t use his time merely to pitch his products – though that is part of the conversation. More importantly, he is an active listener.

ECRM’s private meeting format, and the preparation tools it provides brands in advance of these meetings, helps to set the stage for these types of conversations. “Even before the Session itself we know who we are meeting with,” says Nainani. “We have the company profile, we know who we will be meeting with and we have the buyer’s focus for that particular Session. So we have the opportunity to prepare for these Sessions way ahead of time which helps us position some of our products. And when it comes to product innovation, that is achieved by having conversations around problem areas that we can solve for the customer.”

Sometimes these problems are supply chain issues. Other times it may be about the need for a product that Mekor can develop specifically for that retailer, as it has in several cases – Nainani has an extensive network of manufacturers to whom he can bring ideas for new product launches.

Some new Mekor products
Products waiting to ship out
The tea showroom at Mekor HQ

Private label is another such area of focus. When Mekor started coming to ECRM Sessions, it primarily focused on its own brands or brands that it represented in an exclusive capacity. However, as the need for private label products came up in one conversation after another with buyers, Nainani decided to add that capability.

“Now we have opened the doors to take on brands that are owned by our customers,” he says. “That has a lot of advantages in speed-to-value, because these are large national retailers with well-known brands, and they invest a lot of their marketing dollars in promoting them. It’s a win-win.”

The beauty of this listening and problem-solving approach with retail buyers is that once he solves one problem for a particular buyer, they come back to him when they have another. And another. It may be a new private label offering, or a completely new product line. Whatever their ask, Nainani tries to find an answer, and that has served Mekor well.

It's important to keep in mind though, that these successes were a result of consistently engaging with buyers developing relationships over the course of a decade across 21 Sessions and literally thousands of meetings. As Nainani said in his quote above, this didn’t happen at the first or second Session; it happened over time. Which brings us to the third factor in Mekor’s success: patience.


There is no such thing as an overnight success; success is what many entrepreneurs show off on Instagram, but what most leave out of their feed is the steady day-to-day grind over the years that led up to that success. More often than not, success is the result of patience (and a little fortitude – to borrow the names of the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the New York Public Library in Manhattan). 

You need the patience to deal with the fact that retail deals often take time, and fortitude to keep going when things don’t turn out your way. Persistence however, does pay off in the long run. Sometimes things happen beyond your control. A buyer might love your product, be ready to make a deal, then at the last minute gets promoted and the new buyer ends the deal (as happened to Kenny Finley at GearHaul). Or, as Nainani mentioned earlier, they may have just launched with a competitor and won’t have an opportunity for another couple of years. Other times they might surprise you and close a deal within a few months, as Becky Hines of Mary Mack’s experienced from ECRM’s Summer Beverage Session last year.

Nainani has experienced both of these extremes. “There are times when it has taken us five or six years of regular meetings to break into some of the large scale retail chain stores,” he says. “But another time, I was at dinner during one Session and was discussing one of our products with someone at the table. As it turns out, a senior buyer from a very large national retail chain was listening to the conversation, and she stepped in and said that she would like to get the product into her stores. And she did it within just a few months.” (Clearly another example of the benefits of “showing up.”)

Because of this, he sets realistic expectations. “If I get one good lead from a Session that could turn into a sale, I consider that a success,” he says. “The key is consistency over the long term. For new vendors who may be participating in their first or second ECRM, it’s important to not give up. Just like any other relationship, there is a lot of time that needs to be invested to cultivate buyer relationships.”

What’s next for Mekor

As I sat with Nainani in his HQ office, following a tour of his warehouses, we discussed some of the new product ideas he has been exploring based on his discussions with buyers. He is in the process of developing a private label spice line for a national retail, and is also toying with the idea of pasta, pasta sauce, and even coffee, though these are in the very early stages of ideation. 

We then joined his team member Firat Aglamaz over Zoom to chat about some additional innovations they are pursuing. I met Aglamaz at the February Session, and he is Nainani’s right hand man at these buyer meetings. He is also a great example of the importance that Nainani places on building relationships and listening to buyers. 

Back in the early days of Mekor’s ECRM participation, Aglamaz not only was a buyer, but was one of Mekor’s first customers from an ECRM Session.


Editor's note: Mekor will be will be at ECRM's Snack, Coffee, Tea & Cocoa and Baking, Spices & Breakfast Foods Sessions this coming July in Las Vegas!

Watch the full video interview with Sapan Nainani here


Joseph Tarnowski

VP Content

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