5 Ways to Connect with Foodservice Operators Digitally

In the midst of this global pandemic, digital communication has been the most valuable tool for keeping relationships strong and getting things done. However, in the world of a foodservice professional—one very reliant on in-person interactions—some outside-the-box thinking is required to create a fulfilling and worthwhile digital experience.

Here are 5 ways to continue connecting with foodservice operators during this uncertain time.

1) Showcase the personality of your brand.

Foodservice operators are unable to connect with manufacturing reps, brokers and DSRs given the inability to travel, attend tradeshows, and simply keep their businesses open. These are the most “real” interactions they’ll have with your brand, so utilize this moment as an opportunity to lighten up your messaging and bring more personality to the digital table. Pivot your content away from product promotions, and more into being a true partner helping operators navigate the situation at hand.

2) Expand your social media capabilities.

Going hand in hand with showing the personality of your brand, take this time to expand beyond traditional social media posts. Perhaps you create a Facebook Group where your operators can connect and share ideas with each other. Get your culinary chef on an Instagram or Facebook Live with takeout ideas. Explore having a leader in your organization post a LinkedIn blog, or even host a Twitter chat to see how operators are managing this crazy time. Don’t be afraid to get creative and test the waters when people are craving connection more than ever. Get the scoop on foodservice social media here.

3) Incorporate more educational mediums.

Education is key during this time, as regulations, laws and opinions change daily. Explore hosting a webinar or podcast – whether on your own or by tapping into media partners’ capabilities that already exist. There are several series out there already you can sponsor, host or advertise on. Oftentimes, sponsoring these educational placements also includes lead generation, giving you the ability to interact with attendees post-event via email and sales contact.

4) Take advantage of digital tradeshows.

Just because tradeshows can’t physically happen doesn’t mean all your work should go to waste! Now is the time to invest in a stellar digital tradeshow experience because A.) you will stand out amongst competitors and B.) given the cost savings for both attendees and exhibitors, there’s a great chance some online events will continue beyond the pandemic. Create interactive slides with videos and games, have a dedicated sales rep there to answer questions, and offer free product samples throughout. Once again, don’t forget that one of the biggest opportunities is not necessarily what you do during the show, but how you stay engaged with leads after.

5) Have FUN with operators.

One thing we learned quickly while working remotely is that “water cooler banter” tends to get left out. It’s easy to dive into an agenda, cruise through a meeting and be done when it happens over video chat. While the efficiency is amazing, you also lose the personal touch that is so key in business. Don’t be afraid to have a happy hour with your contacts, or even take just five minutes at the beginning of a meeting to catch up. We had an awesome virtual game of Jeopardy with our programmatic partner Choozle, and it was wonderful connecting with both our contacts and other agencies around the city.

BONUS TIP: Have some grace.

Don’t forget–the foodservice world has been flipped upside down. Businesses are struggling, they are dealing with a whole new way of serving food, and external factors continue to change. Have some grace–make sure to be real, authentic and a true partner. Lift them up and don’t fret if they skip signing up for your latest digital tool. By being truly valuable now, you’ll have truly loyal customers in the future.

Looking for new ways to connect with your operators? Let’s connect.

Foodservice Product Launches: The 7 Most Common Marketing Mistakes

After working with foodservice manufacturers for over 25 years, it’s safe to say we’ve been part of quite a few product launches. Here are the 7 mistakes we’ve learned along the way (so you don’t have to).

1) Focusing too much on product attributes.

What need are you truly fulfilling for operators? While a product might check all of the boxes on paper, it will flop if you’re not actually solving an operator pain point. There is so much that goes into product selection for operators beyond taste. Some questions to consider: Can low-skill employees use with ease? Does it store well on their shelf? How many menu items can it be used for? Take time to conduct operator testing to get their feedback.

  • Do your research with REAL operators and focus on solving their problem in your messaging.

2) Not bringing sales along on the journey.

The classic sales and marketing love/hate relationship. Your sales team, whether direct or brokers, are with operators every day. Understand what they need to be set up for success – whether that’s specific sales materials, a sampling program, competitive cutting guide, or contest. By aligning your sales goals from the start and giving them the tools they need, you’ll have a dedicated, reliable force to amplify your marketing communications efforts (not to mention, follow up with leads!).

  • Work closely with your sales from the start to align your efforts with theirs.

3) Spending too much on marketing communications before you have distribution.

Don’t fall into the trap of a beautiful, well-executed marketing communications plan that reaches operators, and then when they go to purchase the product they realize it’s not available to them. With only a few key moments to drive purchase with operators, you must make it worthwhile. Ensure you’re gaining distribution as you begin to market to operators.

  • Balance your efforts with an operator-pull, distributor-push approach. 

4) Putting all your faith in sales and brokers.

We know. We just told you that you should lean in more to your sales team. But at the same time, there just simply aren’t enough sales members to reach every single operator. Start to grow your direct-to-operator relationships through email marketing and social media so when you have a new product launch, you already have an audience. Not to mention, you receive valuable data on who your customers are. 

  • Build up your direct-to-operator relationships to supplement sales efforts.

5) Getting too fancy with messaging.

Have you seen the stoplight video? It’s a classic tale of trying to make something flashy, different and exciting, when at the end of the day, it’s a simple stop sign. A new product launch is exciting in and of itself. Don’t complicate the message by trying to pack every single product attribute into your headline or ad. While these differentiators are important, you must communicate that you are launching a NEW product.

  • Keep it simple, stupid.

6) Moving onto a new campaign too quickly.

Some product launches may be in the works for 5 years before they go to market. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone must know about this product, because you marketed it for a full quarter with a robust media plan and it was a main focus at a tradeshow (and it’s practically been your whole life the past 2 years). But don’t forget: most operators need to see a message at least 7 times before it sticks. With operators, they likely have to sample it and try it before they even consider purchasing. Build a communications plan that expands for at least a year. You may only have an exciting burst for a quarter or two, but then it’s time to weave into all aspects of your messaging. (Build awareness, drive purchase, encourage usage, and repeat!)

  • Expect to communicate for at least a year – plan how your campaign comes to life beyond your initial launch outreach.

7) Setting it and forgetting it.

Following our same theme as above, with all the work that goes into a product launch before, you shouldn’t be ignoring it after. Don’t forget to track analytics: paid media, sales data, digital analytics, customer service inquiries, sample requests, rebate redemptions, the list goes on. Stick to your launch plan and own it, but give yourself enough grace to pivot as needed. Not to mention, you’ll be better prepared for your next product launch down the road.

  • Track, track, track! The good, the bad, the ugly. Don’t be afraid to pivot halfway through.

Have a product launch coming up? We’d love to help. Reach out to Anita Nelson at anita@infoodmtkg.com or 612-353-3410 to chat!

Measuring the ROI of Foodservice Campaigns (Beyond Case Sales)

Beyond actual sales, a campaign is only as good as the data you collect. This data not only proves return on investment (ROI), but can also play an important role in future campaign planning. Unfortunately, in foodservice marketing, case sale information can sometimes come in months after campaigns are complete. Luckily, there are other methods for gauging success in the meantime.

Here are 3 creative ways to measure value in a foodservice marketing campaign before case sales come in:

1) Incorporate a survey into your campaign.

When planning your campaign, think about how you can incorporate real-time feedback from operators. You don’t need to create a 7-page survey and give away gift cards to anyone who completes it—it can be as simple as adding one question to a sample request form or adding a poll to your campaign landing page. Survey touchpoints throughout campaigns gather valuable data you can use in a multitude of ways. Consider questions about their menu, their biggest pain point, or what products they would like to learn more about.

2) Utilize a campaign hashtag.

Social media is becoming more and more important in foodservice marketing. Utilize a campaign hashtag to measure reach and engagement. Perhaps you can see how operators are using products, or you could require using a hashtag for entry. Hashtag tracking tools not only allow you to see the volume of hashtags that are being used, but also offer valuable insights into location, context surrounding the hashtag, platforms and more. Make sure to use a hashtag unique to your campaign that hasn’t been posted before, rather than something generic like #foodservice.

3) Get nitty-gritty about website data.

How can you go deeper than the classic three website metrics—time on site, bounce rate and pages per visit? Set up conversion tracking to see if operators complete the desired task, such as signing up for a webinar, on your landing pages. Hone in on their website experience—where are operators going next on your site? Use UX tools, like Lucky Orange, to understand the operator journey. Consider how you can bring operators closer and closer to product pages, requesting samples, or reaching out to sales reps.

While a campaign is only as good as the data you collect, data is only as valuable as your insights. When you’re waiting for those much-anticipated sales numbers to roll in, use these valuable metrics to showcase ROI and feed into future campaigns.

Ready to jump in but don’t know where to start? Contact Anita Nelson directly at 612-353-3410 or anita@infoodmktg.com to chat about how we can help boost and track your foodservice marketing successes.

5 surprising things foodservice marketers should know about operators

Marketing is forever evolving – but there are a few constants we’ve learned after 25 years of working in foodservice advertising. Read on for 5 surprising things marketers should know about foodservice operators.

1. They don’t necessarily know who you are.

An operator’s day-to-day is busy and full of variety – from developing menus to fit their patrons’ tastes, to meeting with distributors, and making sure their operation is well-staffed and profitable – they have a lot on their plates. Even if they’re interested in interacting with someone other than just their broker or distributor, searching for manufacturers’ websites isn’t at the top of their to-do list. So, while it’s valuable to have great resources for operators on your website, it’s even more vital to find ways to establish direct-to-operator relationships so they’ll know to look to you as a resource and partner. Make sure you’re using tools like paid search, emails and digital campaigns to drive them to your website.

2. Email isn’t always the best way to reach them.

You might think that your offer or new product is so exciting that it’ll incite an operator to act the first time they see it in their email inbox, but unfortunately that’s rarely the case. According to the “Rule of 7,” your prospects need to come across your offer at least seven times before they even notice it and take action. Put yourself in front of operators in a variety of ways, multiple times. Embrace social media, email, print, direct mail and even tradeshows to establish a presence in operators’ busy headspace. Their days are full of variety – checking their phones for orders, helping out in the kitchen, interacting with patrons and brokers – so your communication should be as well.

3. They aren’t usually searching for “foodservice recipes.”

Creating recipes centered on your products is energizing for brands, but it’s not necessarily where foodservice operators look for inspiration. In fact, we often hear from operators that they are looking to the Food Network, Pinterest, their favorite bloggers and even their own grandma for their recipe research. Operators are skilled at adapting recipes to work in a foodservice setting. Instead of curating a slew of recipes for your products, consider shifting your focus more to recipe inspiration or creative ways of solving problems operators face, such as how they can menu one product multiple ways.

4. They care more about clean label than you think.

Operations that market themselves as healthy and clean are clearly committed to splurging on clean label products. While not every operation falls under this category, that doesn’t mean that the remaining operators aren’t interested in buying clean label. In our research with operators, even those who don’t emphasize these clean attributes on their menu are still interested in these products – simply because they care about the quality of ingredients and integrity of the cooking process. More times than not, they are willing to pay the extra price for a high-quality, clean product for reasons beyond their consumers simply demanding it.

5. They are always willing to try samples.

Even in the busiest of times, operators ensure that they are offering their patrons the best products on the market. So, when there’s an opportunity to test new menu items, they definitely will, especially if you make it easy for them. Given the nature of their business, operators are hands-on learners – willing to jump in as needed, create in the kitchen and run all aspects of their business. Sending free product samples is a sure way for them to experience your product and decide for themselves.

Looking to grow your foodservice business? With nearly 25 years in B2B food marketing, we bring expertise and experience to heat up your sales. Contact Anita Nelson directly at 612-353-3410 or anita@infoodmktg.com.

3 ways foodservice manufacturers can help operators take on delivery

Takeout and delivery have become table stakes for restaurants. Since 2013, digital orders have grown at an average annual rate of 23% according to The NPD Group, and are expected to triple in volume by the end of 2020.

Yet, because of this rapid growth in the delivery sector, there is little information out there to help operators navigate this new territory. Operators are forced to juggle between driving traffic to their restaurant and developing an off-premise plan – whether that means managing a new delivery partner relationship or understanding how to staff with this new revenue stream – all while remaining profitable.

Here are 3 ways foodservice manufacturers can support their operators in taking on take-out:

  1. Provide suggestions on how to serve your products so they taste just as good at home.

Not all delivery food is created equal. Pizza and Pad Thai often last the car ride much better than French fries and tacos. How can you help your operator ensure their food makes the trip, and still tastes delicious? Consider creating specific preparation instructions and recipe inspiration for your products so that they work well for delivery. These can be communicated via case inserts, follow-up emails after orders, or sales sheets.

  1. Incentivize purchase with on-the-go packaging.

Packaging is an important piece of delivery – not only does it ensure the safe (and tasty!) arrival of food, it also gives diners their first impression of a restaurant. Utilize rebate redemptions or limited time offers to incentive purchase by offering delivery containers, napkins and cutlery that work well for your products. Get inspired by Lamb Weston, who not only developed a specific recipe for delivery, but also a special container to ensure their fries are always as crispy as when they are served fresh. Bonus points if you use compostable containers!

  1. Create customizable marketing materials to promote delivery options.

If a restaurant is investing time and money in a delivery system, menu and process, they need actual sales to justify the costs. Ease the burden of promoting takeout and delivery options by offering some value-added marketing materials for your operators. Ideas include:

    • Digital and social templates that restaurants can easily add their logo to
    • Customizable flyers that restaurants can deliver to their local neighborhoods
    • How-to sheet for advertising with major restaurant delivery partners
    • Email template that operators can copy and paste to notify their customers
    • Customizable menu inserts to encourage future delivery orders

Delivery is a fast-growing trend and presents a golden opportunity for foodservice manufacturers to position themselves as true partners with their operators. Consumers are informing operators’ priorities by increasingly asking for takeout options, and in turn operators are relying on YOU to help them make takeout easy and profitable. Of course, helping operators delight their patrons is in your best interest too! Build the collaborative partnerships that will keep operators coming back for your products by helping them expand their business into the delivery space.