As a foodservice manufacturer, you prefer to seek out direct contact with hospitality professionals and caterers. You are undertaking activities yourself aimed at acquiring new customers, growing your customer base and fostering their loyalty. This does not necessarily mean that you will also be supplying outside wholesalers. We will discuss how to deal with that option in this article.
Level 1: Awareness
Without awareness, you’ve got nothing. That’s your entry ticket. When you use a wholesaler, your product may be the only one of its kind. Then you’ve got it good.
If you want to have your own contact with end users, you will have to work on your brand awareness. The strategies are well-known: Have a prominent presence at trade shows, advertise with trade media and on social media platforms, use influencers, commit to cutting-edge events, be controversial…
At the crux of this level is sharing the information and inspirational content that is relevant to your target audience. And there are a myriad of ways to do that.
Level 2: Building and maintaining customer relationships
Most manufacturers enjoy some level of brand awareness. For them, it comes down to the second step: building customer relationships. In most of the cases we encounter, relationships only have been established in a small portion of the market. But no matter who we speak to, no manufacturer has already established relationships with all of the 200,000 foodservice outlets in the Netherlands or the 120,000 in Belgium (based on Datlinq).
The logical first step at this point is to build a relationship with your customers, the ones buying your products, who you do not yet know.
Getting to know unfamiliar customers
There are several strategies for getting to know unfamiliar customers. We have provided three examples of activities here that you can pursue if you do not know which end users buy your products and which do not:
1. Collect sales data from wholesalers
The most comprehensive sales data is available from wholesalers. However, wholesalers also understand the value of this data. And they won’t just give it away very easily.
Do your best to obtain that sales data in exchange for commercial collaboration with wholesalers. This will work out better with some than with others. It is also ultimately a matter of negotiating, ensuring that both parties stand to gain something.
2. Offering loyalty points
One rising trend are loyalty programmes: Unilever Foodsolutions, Lantmännen, and Signature Foods use these kinds of programmes. The concept is simple: the purchaser receives a unique code on the packaging that can be redeemed via an app or website. Over time, you will have saved enough for a nice gift. And the manufacturer gains insight into end-consumer purchases. It would be difficult for all of us to start programmes like this because then no one in the hospitality industry could get to work. But they certainly are effective.
3. Just ask
The major advantage of the first two strategies is that you gain insight into customer acquisitions. We can also take a more moderate pace with our ambitions and still get quite far. You can always just ask questions. Here are two examples of how to go about it.
For your social media campaigns, you might be using lead capture pages. Of course, you can always ask additional questions beyond the required information (name and email): Which olive oil do you use? (1) Bottle – (2) 5 litre tin – (3) pomace (4) – another brand. Clicks in lead capture pages can be stored in marketing automation or CRM systems.
You offer personalised advice to readers of your newsletter for their cocktail menus. All they need to do is answer a few questions first, including what products they already use. The questionnaire is completed on a landing page, where all the data is in turn added directly to the marketing automation system.
Turning familiar customers into fans
Once you have customer contact details, you can get in touch with them on a somewhat regular basis. In general, contact from an existing supplier is welcomed. That said, the amount of digital information and inspirational content on offer now is overwhelming. So it is crucial to stand out. The content should be high quality and very relevant to your customers.
Of course, when it comes to relevance, personalisation is key. We do this based on customer data, as in these three examples:
- Profile data; We send every snack bar an article on “more sales from Monday to Wednesday.”
- Behavioural data; Anyone who has requested our e-book on wines in the past will now be sent information on liqueurs.
- Purchasing data; Everyone who has ordered our sandwiches in the past will now be sent a message about the new whole-wheat sandwich.
Level 3: Transfer orders
If you have direct contact with end users, you can also convert that into orders. This then requires you to have your product range information available online: a digital catalogue. This is a great thing to do anyway, as an open catalogue is a huge lead generator.
Being able to take a ‘transfer order’ is then the easiest step. This kind of order is delivered to the wholesaler by the manufacturer. The manufacturer is therefore providing a service to the wholesaler. Wholesalers have also created definitions now for how they want to receive these transfer orders. Many suppliers (FrieslandCampina, Van Geloven, Lantmännen, Unilever Foodsolutions) are already working with these definitions. Datlinq has even automated this process, taking the pressure off of you as a manufacturer.
Level 4: E-commerce
Finally, you can take that true step into e-commerce by starting to sell through one of the well-known platforms. Just like Unilever Foodsolutions is doing in the UK on Amazon, for example (see image).
Selling through one of the newer platforms is, of course, also an option. For example, Coca-cola does that on Foodl and a lot of fresh food specialists work with Amazon (see image).
Another option is to open your own webshop, as Unilever has. This is a logical step, especially when a significant part of your product range is not included in the offer from major wholesalers.
One thorny issue that remains for many manufacturers is invoicing and (especially) logistics. This can be resolved by using specialized companies. Fortunately, the possibilities are rapidly expanding.
We are digital experts and that may be the reason why we are so keen on e-commerce. However, we also fully understand that e-commerce is a business in itself. Wholesalers are getting better at it. In a previous article, we described 4 reasons why wholesalers are such important partners for manufacturers.
Our advice is: experiment with digital marketing and e-commerce, at a level that suits your strategy and organisation. The big advantage of experimenting now is the learning effect it will have for your organisation. The fact is that organisations are rather slow to learn. It will take years for you – all of you(!) – to have a good grasp of it.
Study by Hotel Management School Maastricht
Students from the Hotel Management School Maastricht conducted research for GROUP7 on ‘The producer as supplier.’ They concluded that there is a good opportunity for producers to supply hotels, restaurants and catering companies directly. They described the key critical success factors in their report. Based on the survey, we added 7 practical tips. Download a summary of the survey and tips.