Four Ways Ecommerce Can Grow Your Foodservice Business

The foodservice industry has sometimes been slow to capitalize on all that ecommerce offers. For instance, the second-largest distributor in the US was still taking orders by fax, phone and paper as recently as 2013. Now, however, as foodservice players of all sizes learn to thrive in the digital era, the “e” is rapidly coming to stand for “essential.” Here are four ways you can make that “e” also mean big “earnings.”

One: Connect the consumer to convenience

There are three menu items virtually every consumer wants from any restaurant, grocery store or food emporium: simplicity, selection, and speed. Ecommerce can deliver all three, seamlessly. Consider the Taco Bell app that lets customers “Live Más” with less effort, instantly reordering or customizing favorite orders, paying with a flick of the phone, and earning points automatically. Or the popular Starbucks app that lets you order ahead and skip the line. Or the many apps that use geofencing to serve up special offers and perks when customers are near the store or in-store (84% of people who get such in-the-moment offers use them).

Two: Offer and align both online and offsite sales

Consumers don’t have an either-or attitude toward online or in-store shopping. They are emphatically “Both!” Take grocery as an example – even as online buying continues to expand, nearly 97% of grocery shoppers still like to go to the physical store, at least on occasion.

This dual reality presents a new challenge for foodservice brands, especially as the business of food today is as much about delivering an experience as it is about providing something to eat. Whether you run a chain of supermarkets or a single gourmet shop, you need to deliver a consistent look, feel and interaction in-store, on your desktop website or on mobile devices.

Three: Make the experience picture perfect

Consumers are increasingly visual in all their pursuits, and successful foodservice companies should be, too. From the décor of your stores to the quality of photos on your website, you need to put food in its best, most appetizing light.

This is not just a matter of good branding and design – it’s science. A recent study concluded that our perception of how good food will be “depends on parts of the brain that involve taste, odor, touch and vision. The sum total of these signals… determines whether we like or dislike specific foods.” Which is also to say, whether consumers buy or don’t buy.

Four: Don’t neglect the big B2B ecommerce advantages

Ecommerce isn’t just a must in the consumer realm – it’s a new prerequisite for success in the B2B foodservice world, too.

Consider that second-largest foodservice distributor mentioned above, US Foods. Once it finally jumped in to ecommerce it did so with a vengeance, meeting customer demands for easier ordering and order tracking by providing state-of-the-art websites and mobile apps. In addition to simplifying the placing and tracking of orders, their e-commerce tools enable business analytics that help customers evaluate transaction history and trends, manage inventory more easily, and even develop new ideas to spice up menus.

The overall result? Of US Foods’ $23 billion total annual revenue, $16 billion now comes via ecommerce.

How will you make the most of ecommerce?

Whether you use enterprise-level platforms or DIY small business dashboards, new ecommerce challenges and opportunities abound in foodservice. Will you develop an Alexa app so customers can order by voice alone? Should you adapt your online content to the ever-growing preference for mobile, leaning more heavily on video, audio and Instagram-formatted photos? Will you finally even out your product availability ups-and-downs by incorporating real-time data into your restocking protocols?

There’s no end to the possibilities in foodservice ecommerce – which is why that “e” will, above all, stand for “exciting.”

Total Food: How e commerce is transforming the food industry
HBS: US Foods: B2B e Commerce in the Food Industry
Adweek: How Geofencing Lets Brick-and-Mortar Stores Compete
Urban Tastebud: 14 Best Restaurant Apps
American Chemical Society: Seeing Flavors