Small food producers can get a better deal by selling to independent stores because the larger retailers are not flexible enough, delegates at Britain’s top food show heard this week.

Speaking at Food and Drink Expo, store owner James Roberts said he was amazed by research that found the bigger retailers took nine weeks to get product in store after agreeing to stock it.

“Come to us instead, because we just want to get new products on to the market as quickly as possible.”

Pudding-maker Helen Colley started making food in a converted barn near Clitheroe, Lancashire, when the family’s pedigree herd was wiped out by foot-and-mouth, and said the best advice she could give was persistence.

“I called the buyer every 30 minutes for three weeks until they agreed to see me.

Navety has also got me where I am – I stood up at a conference and asked Sir Terry Leahy [Tesco chief executive] why he didn’t stock my products.

Ten days later I got a call from a buyer.”

But most would need to adopt a more scientific approach, according to Simon Dunn of Product Chain.

“You have to communicate with sophisticated buyers in a language they understand.”

That meant using the advice and market data that are freely available on the web and from organisations like IGD, he added.

Andrew Cole of Bridgethorne said the initial presentation should last no longer than a minute and focus on key points of difference.

“And if you don’t have any joy, go to the buyer’s boss – you’ve got nothing to lose.”