Already in 2018, the food and beverage industry was making a dramatic shift toward digital commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that shift in several significant ways, defining a new set of food and beverage industry best practices.
Grocery stores have continued to operate without interruption as an essential service throughout the pandemic (albeit with heavy restrictions, including which items they can sell and how many customers can be in the store at any given time). These inconveniences, along with wanting to avoid the virus, have driven online grocery sales to record numbers.
Restaurants for the most part have been forced to close their brick-and-mortar operations. However, the sector has been incredibly nimble in adapting to the COVID-19 crisis overall, stepping up its delivery logistics and leveraging apps like Skip. A survey of our customers saw significant growth in the sector (246%) during just the first month of the pandemic last year.
More importantly, however, customer expectations—themselves already shaped by remote work and social distancing—have responded in kind to these industry shifts. The result is an emerging set of new food and beverage industry best practices for the post-COVID world.
You’ve probably heard the expression “voting with your wallet.” Today’s shoppers inform themselves before they invest in a business. They want to make sure that the products they buy are ethically sourced, environmentally sustainable, and cruelty-free.
In short, they want to know the underlying values of the companies they do business with.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced this practice, in particular by prompting shoppers to support local businesses and brands. Accenture reports that for local and national brands, takeout sales have risen by 25% and 20%, respectively, while sales for global brands have dropped 8% in the same period.
According to a survey by Nielsen, value-based purchasing will account for $150 billion in sustainable consumer packaged goods this year—up by as much as $8 billion based on combined average growth rates. This means that B2B food and beverage manufacturers would do well to consider alternative packing options that take end-user values into account.
B2B companies have long known the value of personalizing customer relationships. But this applies equally to retail, and the food and beverage industry is no exception. Highly personalized shopping experiences make customers 40% more likely to spend more than originally planned… often in the form of adding additional items to their cart.
Particularly in the restaurant sector where service is a key differentiator, it’s important to check online reviews of your business. Ideally your website enables customer ratings and reviews. This not only keeps you informed about what your customers would like to see, it allows you to respond directly and personalize the experience further.
B2B food and beverage companies like manufacturing distributor John R. White leverage B2B-specific e-commerce functionality including personalized catalogs and pricing, quick-order templates, and more in order to drive traffic to their online channels. k-eCommerce even created a custom design tailor made for John R. White’s brand and industry.
According to David Harris, John R. White’s president, “We knew an e-commerce platform, if done correctly, could make our relationship with our customers ‘stickier.’ They wouldn’t want to give up the ease and convenience of the platform.” This strategy worked: in their first year online, they surpassed their customer acquisition targets and grew their brand loyalty considerably.
Changes to physical stores and fulfillment
When it comes to grocery stores and other physical locations, numerous shoppers may feel uncomfortable about potential exposure to COVID-19. There are many steps you can take to reassure your customers and help them shop with confidence, ranging from simple measures like offering touch-free payment, to altering your store’s layout with a view toward optimizing social distancing.
The pandemic has driven numerous innovations in purchase fulfillment. One of the most notable is curbside pickup, where customers make purchases online and retrieve them outside the physical store. This is the direct evolution of buy online/pick up in store (BOPIS).
Similarly, by adjusting your inventory and warehouse management, you can allow your customers to purchase items from one location and retrieve them from another. The store that fulfills the order benefits by having the revenue associated with its location, and your customers benefit by having a variety of safe delivery options.