Originally published May 21, 2020, updated March 21, 2022
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, eCommerce in the food and beverage industry was already on the rise. 2017 food eCommerce sales in the US of $12.61 million were projected to almost double to $24.12 million by 2021. And this estimate was before pandemic conditions drove increased online selling.
Industry giant Unilever, home of brands like Hellman’s and Lipton, is adopting a new business model that includes selling through B2C and B2B eCommerce. They’ve dedicated a team of 800 people, so you know they are serious about their eCommerce intentions. LEK’s estimates of growth are even more bullish. They put worldwide growth of eCommerce in food and beverage even higher.
This post will explore a case for eCommerce in the B2B food and beverage Industry in the post-pandemic world. It will also guide you through the impact of the pandemic we still feel today, major trends in the food and beverage sector, and eCommerce opportunities for growth.
Read on or skip to the parts you find most interesting.
The Challenges in the Food and Beverage Industry
Food and beverage companies face challenges on multiple fronts. They need to tackle the challenges with shifting consumption and purchasing patterns, the ongoing supply chain crisis, while navigating ever-changing rules and regulations.
Shifting consumption patterns
On the one hand, people are staying at home and home preparation of meals and beverages is driving off-premise sales up. And increased sales is good. On the other hand, these off-premise sales are low margin. Increased sales bad? Well, they are coming at the loss of historically high margin out-of-home sales. Even as economies begin reopening, it’s uncertain how quickly those past consumer behavior patterns will return.
Changing consumption levels
Initial sales volumes spiked based on consumer fear. However, once people begin to move about, overall consumer consumption will likely be reduced by the looming economic recession. Even economists are having a hard time wrapping their heads around this one. The last recession took 18 months to unfold, but this time economic change has been swift. The long-term impact is anybody’s guess at this point.
Supply chain woes
Supply chain disruptions and changing commodity prices make planning, production, and pricing decisions increasingly difficult to make. As hotspots flare up, commodities may become scarce or evaporate. Even moving materials and product within the chain is a challenge.
Changes in purchasing patterns
Purchasing patterns continue to shift. Pre-pandemic on-line food and beverage purchases were only a little over 3% of online sales. However in March 2020 alone, according to a Nielsen and FMI survey, 80% of shoppers who made a food or beverage purchase online intended to do so again. If your customers weren’t buying online before the pandemic, they are now.
Compliance and logistics complexities
Operating in different regions requires adapting to myriad health and safety rules. Logistics is increasingly complicated as drivers must face rules that can vary from a loading dock to a loading dock, even within a single geographic region.
What to Expect: Food and Beverage Industry Trends to Anticipate
As the pandemic started, only 56% of companies in the food and beverage industry had an eCommerce presence. Being engaged in eCommerce in the B2B food industry well situated these companies for the demand for online sales brought on by the coronavirus and ensuing lockdowns. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for additional players. Here are the major trends in the industry:
Continued supply chain volatility
Look no further than Asia for examples of an industry roiled by volatility. While APEC trade ministers place a priority on restarting food and agriculture supply chains, India is short on lab staff for food safety testing, and half of Malaysia’s regions are refusing to leave lockdown conditions. US meat processing plant closures impact prices and availability. Suppliers will be pushed to continually adjust and must have real-time data to form their decisions.
Growth in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales
Retail chains like Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Whole Foods can barely keep up with delivery service sales and InstaCart is scrambling to fill the gap. This makes the B2B beverage and food market ripe for continued expansion into DTC sales. Done properly, DTC creates more opportunities to drive brand loyalty and sales. 4Sisters Rice stood up an eCommerce site in only 2 weeks while continuing to support their brick and mortar retailers. Successful eCommerce food sales will include DTC channels in addition to B2B sales to restaurants, brick-and-mortar stores, and food wholesalers.
Delivery logistics challenges
Long haul trucking to move goods from produce growing areas like California and Florida will likely continue to be a challenge. The additional time required to clean and sanitize trucks is adding pressure to already tight schedules. Lack of rest areas, the ability to get meals on the road, and a myriad of local delivery regulations have sidelined many truck drivers. The CDC issued guidelines specifically for long-haul truck drivers and the DOT has eased hours of service restrictions during the state of national emergency. FedEx and UPS restrictions and waiver of guarantees for DTC and LTL deliveries continue to change.
Increased health consciousness by consumers
Customers in all sectors are increasingly concerned about their personal health and the safety of their food. This will play out on two fronts. First, products perceived as healthy alternatives will rise in popularity. Second, the concern for end-to-end product traceability is higher than ever. Food and beverage companies will increasingly rely on IoT and blockchain technology to improve food transparency and traceability, a trend started by Auchen.
What Food and Beverage Companies Need in a B2B eCommerce Platform
Whether you are replatforming an existing site or just getting started in eCommerce beverage and food sales, here are key features your B2B food and beverage commerce platform needs to thrive in a post-pandemic economy.
No man is an island and no eCommerce solution can stand on its own. Your B2B food commerce platform must seamlessly integrate with your ERP, logistics, WMS, CRM, PIM eCommerce, and other existing solutions. Data must flow freely from the order management step to delivery, so all systems stay in sync. In addition, permission-based dashboards break down data silos and place information at the fingertips of decision-makers when and where they need it. The ability to deploy in a traditional or headless architecture provides maximum flexibility in integration scenarios.
Food eCommerce trends show that market demand for DTC sales will continue to be strong. Your platform should be able to support B2B and B2C channels. These very different markets demand a very different customer experience. Make sure you select a platform that handles both equally flawlessly. Unfortunately, many B2B platforms are simply repurposed B2C solutions. This may solve your need for B2C but won’t advance your B2B business. OroCommerce is the B2B eCommerce platform designed for the way the food and beverage industry does business. In addition, it supports B2C and even B2B marketplace transactions.
86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. Personalization is a huge part of the best customer experience. 63% of consumers are turned off by generic marketing messages. Deliver personalized price lists, product catalogs, and minimum quantities to each B2B customer. Push B2C sales with impulse purchases and promotions. Do it all from the same platform! Leverage data and analytics to segment audiences and deliver the right time right messages directly to their screen. Personalize to drive brand loyalty and sales.
Today’s eCommerce solution should future-proof your business for tomorrow. Thus, your technology strategy and eCommerce for FMCG duty should also adjust to your needs. As your business grows, your platform should scale with you. Look for solutions that can deploy on-premise, on the web, or in the cloud. Make sure your platform handles an endless number of SKUs and customers.
Ecosystem and Support
Just as important as the platform you choose is the ecosystem surrounding it and the support available. As a rule, open-source solutions provide greater security and operate with a larger developer and user community. Because it’s peer-reviewed, it’s more reliable. The availability of solutions providers and partners is just as important. When it comes to developing the implementation strategy and executing the plan, you’ll want partners that are familiar with the platform. And speaking of implementation, don’t forget to ask about APIs and plugins available to speed the time to market.
How eCommerce Addresses Modern Market Issues in the Edibles Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic is serving as a spotlight on modern issues in the food and beverage industry. In some cases, it has accelerated change that was already underway (like a shift in B2B eCommerce) but it is also shining a light on new markets like DTC sales.
Whether it was a novel coronavirus or some other disrupter, most supply chains just weren’t strong enough to withstand rapid change.
In the modern market and the market of the future, food and beverage manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors must have two key ingredients: flexibility and data.
Your B2B food and beverage company needs flexibility to:
- Scale up and down as rapidly as the market changes
- Change business models from B2B, B2C, B2B2C, and back again
- Respond with new products to fill new needs as they arise
- Face ever-changing supply chain and logistics challenges
- Provide a customer experience that mirrors customer expectations
Data is crucial for:
- Insights into customer buying patterns
- Penetrating new markets
- Diversifying supply chains
- Delivering the right product at the right time
- Segmenting markets to improve conversions
- Increasing average order value
If you accept credit card payments, your eCommerce store must also be PCI DSS compliant among other regulations.
Why Is a B2B eCommerce Platform Perfect for Food & Beverage Now?
As the recent crisis demonstrated, FMCG brands should be prepared to volatile demand. Online presence is mission-critical in today’s food and beverage industry. Whether selling B2B, B2C, D2C, the food and beverage industry requires powerful tools for uninterrupted selling across all channels. The right eCommerce solution should provide flexibility and serve up reliable and actionable data important to the industry. It must integrate with existing systems such as ERP, WHM and PIM eCommerce tools for easy, real-time information exchange.
Lastly, your solution should be as easy to use on the front-end as on the back-end. With a website that is SEO-friendly and built to work on any device, you’ll guarantee quicker adoption, higher conversions, and more repeat sales. FairPrice, a Singapore-based grocery giant, took charge and reimagined their B2B sales arm with a purpose-built B2B eCommerce software.
Learn about how they were able to quickly implement a B2B sales portal, fully integrating their ERP system, workflows, promotions, and reward programs with OroCommerce:
Questions and Answers about eCommerce in the B2B Beverages and Food Industry
What are the advantages of eCommerce in the food industry?
Here are the top four benefits of eCommerce in the B2B food industry:
- The ability to win more clients. An online sales channel is mission-critical for food suppliers looking to sell faster and in more quantities.
- Digitized experiences increase average order value. A self-service online portal makes research and purchasing easier, encouraging customers to buy more.
- Streamlined sales processes. An eCommerce portal automates and simplifies many sales processes, enabling your team to handle requests and orders efficiently.
- Future-proofing your business. ECommerce helps you build, expand, and maintain flexibility regardless of the complexity of your business model.
What are the challenges in B2B food and beverage sales?
The B2B food and beverage industry is grappling with many challenges. These include regulatory constraints, a growing expansion into direct-to-consumer sales, the need to maintain supply chain stability, and technology advancements that are difficult to keep up with.
What functionality should eCommerce for the food and beverage industry provide?
- Your platform should be able to support different channels, whether it’s B2B, B2C, D2C, B2B2C, or any other channel;
- An eCommerce solution should offer ample customization and flexible deployment;
- Make sure your platform handles an endless number of SKUs and customers;
- Opt for open-source solutions, as they provide greater security and operate with a larger developer and user community than proprietary ones.