Ecommerce in Foodservice: Invest in Ecommerce Ahead of the Curve

Cleveland Research Company ecommerce in foodserviceOn Thursday, October 27th, Cleveland Research Company (CRC) hosted an “eCommerce in Foodservice”
webinar to share the findings from their latest market research study. The data presented was based off of three surveys conducted over the course of the fall with foodservice distributors, operators, and manufacturers.

The distributors participating in the survey represent roughly $40-45 billion in US sales, or 15-20% of the industry. The 60 or so manufacturers represented in the data represent roughly $40-45 billion in sales. Operators involved ranged from small companies with only a handful of restaurants to large regional chains.

The main takeaway from CRC’s findings is that digital penetration in foodservice is rising steadily and expected to reach 70% in 2019 compared to 50% currently. Digital sales are affecting all facets of foodservice, and CRC strongly suggests that all companies embrace the evolving ecommerce landscape.

One predicted change is the decline of using traditional Direct Sales Representatives (DSRs) within foodservice distribution in the next five years. Independent restaurants polled showed that 34.6% bought at least a portion of their groceries online, up 6% from 3 years ago. CRC expects that number to rise to 54.1% in three years.

Another change is the rise of Amazon in foodservice. Operators are already using Amazon with 25% currently ordering restaurant supplies from the online retailer. 77% of restaurants use ecommerce to buy equipment and small wares, with 38-46% buying foods online.

Amazon is currently not challenging broadline distributors, which account for 2/3 of online restaurant supply orders, but the webinar’s host Ross Walthall can see that changing. “As Amazon already has a grasp within the foodservice world, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to expect them to try to cross-sell more food service items,” he said. “Get aligned with Amazon, start interfacing with that channel, and hire people to manage it.”

CRC strongly stressed the importance of building a relationship with Amazon. There’s a good chance that food manufacturers’ products are going to show up on Amazon whether they’re selling them or not, and often at a higher price point.  Amazon isn’t going anywhere, and manufacturers are not going to be able to exist outside of them forever, so including Amazon is an important business strategy.

When asked how manufacturers can better facilitate improved penetration and growth in ecommerce, they found what we’ve been stressing to our clients for years: CRC found that 89% polled want better information and better product images online. Customers go online to learn about products, so clear information and imagery needs to be easily available.

“Whether it’s with your broadline distribution partners, Amazon, or another website you’re selling your products through, it’s very important that you get the basics right,” said Walthall. “Get great information to put into the hands of your potential customers, and invest in product images that really sell your products for you.”

Manufacturers are especially behind the curve when it comes to developing dedicated ecommerce resources: 47% of manufacturers polled don’t have an ecommerce team, and nearly 70% have no plans to change that. With ecommerce rapidly becoming a major sales channel, manufactures need to plan ahead or risk being left behind. The companies who hired dedicated ecommerce teams with foresight are the ones who are seeing outsized returns now, while companies who wait will struggle in the future to catch up.

For more on Ecommerce in Foodservice, please contact Ross Walthall or Maggie O’Neill of Cleveland Research Company for more information.