A slotting fee is a fee which a supermarket or chain store charges manufacturers for carrying their products. You may be surprised to learn about slotting fees, as it seems a bit odd to pay for the privilege of having your product appear on supermarket stores, but they are in fact a large source of revenue for many supermarkets and chains, despite attempts at regulation in many parts of the world.
This practice emerged in the United States in the late 1970s, and while it is not industry standard, it is very widespread, especially among very large chains. Essentially, these stores charge a fee for carrying new products; products which are already on the shelf may also have slotting fees assessed. The slotting fee for a brand new product is sometimes called a “product introduction fee.” Stores may also institute a “pay and stay” policy when they change hands, meaning that manufacturers will be required to pay a slotting fee if they want their products to remain on the shelf.
From the point of the view of the grocery industry, slotting fees are extremely convenient. They act as insurance against new products which fail, ensuring that the stores make a reasonable profit on them and justifying the allocation of warehouse space. Slotting fees also help stores expand, and they can assist with decisions about what kinds of products to carry, and where. For plum spots like endcaps by the registers, companies may pay extremely high slotting fees; in some cases, stores actually make more from the slotting fee than they do from sales of the product.
Manufacturers, of course, feel very differently about slotting fees. Small companies typically cannot afford to pay slotting fees, making it difficult for them to get product exposure, as they can only supply stock to smaller chains or individually owned stores which do not charge slotting fees. Some manufacturers have banded together to lobby against such fees to stock products, arguing that they are unfair to small companies.
Food historians believe that slotting fees have dramatically changed the American supermarket landscape by reducing the diversity of products available to consumers. The American food market is heavily dominated by a small group of major players which can afford slotting fees and complex distribution systems, leaving smaller companies out in the cold. Some food activists have also spoken out against the slotting fee concept, arguing that it hurts consumers as well as manufacturers by restricting consumer freedom of choice.