Foodservice marketing’s uncertain future

I have no clue how the overly complex world of foodservice product marketing is going to shape up over the next five years.  Neither do you.  Nor does anybody else.

The industry remains a mysterious place.  It runs relatively fine with antiquated systems and well-worn personal relationships that move business forward centered on a supply chain mish-mash that restaurant operators seemingly approach with Zen-like aplomb.

Sure, a few progressive moves get headlines as if water is being turned into wine.  Restaurant Depot shakes up distribution. A few restaurant chains deploy tabletop technology.  Big Company “A” acquires Big Company “B.”  But all these moves combined are rounding error in an $800 billion industry.  Let alone grab the attention of the average operator.

There is no parallel of Amazon in foodservice (even Amazon itself!) that fundamentally is changing the industry.  No Expedia-like app that truly compares products across multiple vendors.  The Uber of foodservice has yet to be envisioned.

Odds are good something big will eventually happen.  But odds are equally as good that whatever “it” is probably hasn’t been noted in current predictions.  Fundamental changes almost always start from the bottom up, not the top down.

Mom-and-pop shops and small regional chains will embrace “it” without needing to be heavily sold on the idea.  Most big ideas grow organically because those impacted believe in the ideas with their heart and soul.  Just as small florists joined FTD and I-800-Flowers because those platforms simplified how to get orders for their perishable products (sound familiar?).

But until “it” comes along, what do food product marketers do?

  • Your 411 content. Restaurant owners and managers always need help.  Very few need “marketing” from food companies.  Show them how to ensure food safety with your product.  Where to squeeze yield without affecting the entrée’s value to the consumer.  Or the one critical step in keeping a kitchen knife sharp. Simple training-like content will always be valuable regardless of when “it” happens.
  • It’s people, not technology. You’re losing 80 percent of the battle if your sales network doesn’t love your content.  Corporate reps, brokers and distributors still deliver the vast majority of news to operators.  They’ll happily pass your info along if they believe it will help a customer.  This person-to-person trend is changing, but street-level relationships still rule the day.
  • Oh, but it is technology.  Simple tech. Make your content easy to share via a rep’s smartphone.  Place content on every online street corner (within reason) because you never know where operators might show up these days.  Make that email newsletter focused on ideas rather than outright flogging of your products.  None of these things is particularly difficult or new.  The hard part is being committed to the effort for the long haul.  But the value of your work will remain regardless of what “it” becomes because operators will always value a reliable information source.