Digital Marketing for Wholesale Food Distributors and Manufacturers

alarm 7 Minute Read
today Posted Apr 7th, 2020

COVID-19’s Impact on Wholesalers, Distributors & Manufacturers 

As we head into our fourth, but sadly not final, month of the worldwide Coronavirus crisis, we wanted to turn our attention to the food industry and how wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers, in particular, have been impacted.  

Following official government guidelines, restaurants, leisure facilities and non-essential shops across the UK were forced to close their doors on March 21st to reduce the spread of the virus. Consequently, this created a ripple effect across each of their respective supply chains.  

For example, if a restaurant usually places a weekly order of 50 steaks, 12kg of carrots and 200 eggs from a wholesale food distributor or manufacturer, what now happens to this produce that was previously in demand? The wholesalers in question have already paid for or produced the food themselves in advance, so how they can continue distribution to avoid food wastage and economic difficulty during this time? 


Selling Wholesale Food to Consumers

It is estimated that there is around £20m worth of food currently in UK warehouses with a shelf life of under three months. With UK supermarkets overrun with demand for everyday supplies such as meat, pasta and toilet roll as people begin panic buying, domestic consumers began asking why wholesale food suppliers can’t just sell their produce direct to supermarkets? 

The answer sadly is not as simple as one may think. The majority of wholesale food is not appropriate for selling through retailers due to being prepacked in large quantities and lacking the labelling required for selling food to the general public.  

For this reason, if wholesale food distributors wish to continue selling their stock, they will need to adjust their business model and begin selling wholesale food direct to consumers rather than their previous pub and restaurant clientele.  


Wholesale Food Home Deliveries

As well as putting limits on the number of items customers are able to buy, supermarkets are now imposing a 2-meter guideline in most cases, as well as introducing new rules around their store’s maximum capacity. These measures appear to be partially solving the issue of stockpiling, helping to enforce social distancing and allowing staff time to restock shelves, however, many people, particularly the more vulnerable within society, are still wanting to avoid supermarkets altogether.  

Whilst opting for a Sainsburys or Ocado home delivery might seem like a quick fix here, these services have been put under significant strain, with many people experiencing hours of waiting time to find their desired items are no longer in stock or simply are not able to reserve a delivery slot in the first place.  

As we move towards what is likely to be months of isolation, wholesale distributors from large multinational enterprises to smaller, more local ones are beginning to crack into the consumer and home delivery market.  

Numerous businesses have, in recent weeks, begun offering wholesale food home deliveries with the option of contactless drop-offs within their local area. Some are even offering free delivery or other deals to NHS workers and people within vulnerable groups as a way of doing something to support their local community.  


Digital Marketing for Wholesalers, Distributors & Manufacturers

Most companies, especially those who have been in the industry for a significant period, will have built a solid client base and may not previously have had the capacity or requirement to be advertising for new business. As food wholesalers begin to make the shift from the commercial to consumer market however, this base is put on hold and, in many instances, they will need to start again from scratch.  

So, how can these distributors and manufacturers begin selling wholesale food to consumers and continue to thrive during this uncertain time?  

The answer lies within their marketing efforts, and more specifically in this age, their digital marketing efforts.  

If wholesalers were previously utilising any digital marketing, it was, more likely than not, geared towards commercial institutes rather than your average British household. Examples of these gaps in approach are seen below:  

  • Lacking a digital presence at all 
  • Not having a relevant domestic contact database to offer services to 
  • The presence of confusing commercial language which could put household consumers off 
  • Requiring a business account to access e-commerce sections of a website 
  • No messaging around their change in business model e.g. selling their wholesale food to consumers rather than businesses for the foreseeable future 
  • No active marketing or presence on social media channels e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn
  • Lack of advertising targeting consumers or a presence for domestic search terms (e.g. “wholesale food home delivery”) on Google 


Options to Target Domestic Consumers via Digital Marketing Channels

There is a huge range of digital channels and approaches available to wholesale/distribution businesses who have never focussed on consumer targeting before. Whilst some may be already in use in a more focussed B2B environment, similar tactics can also be used (with a few tweaks) in the consumer sector.   


Key Inbound Digital Marketing Channels for Wholesalers

  • Paid Advertising – Pay Per Click (PPC) Campaigns (Search & Social): Ads run via Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. – basically the ads you see on Google or your social platforms. These can be demographically, and/or geographically targeted, depending on the platform (meaning you can focus ad delivery on the local areas you can deliver to). Google Search Ads are triggered by very specific sets of user search terms whilst social media ads can target people via a huge range of demographic and interest-based options. Both social media and search ads concentrate on pushing potential customers/consumers to your website to engage with your business and purchase stock/products.  
  • Paid Advertising – Remarketing or Display Ad Campaigns: Ultimately, this is a sub-set of search ads. At a basic level, Remarketing allow you to target a user who has been to your site (but not converted) or, has taken a specific action(s) on your website, with ads as they move around the web. Display Advertising (in its most rudimentary form) allows you to place your ads on 3rd party websites that you think your potential customers are likely to be visiting. There are more advanced features and elements within each of these areas, but fundamentally, these ad options are all about extending your visibility and reach across the web, not just on social media platforms or search engines. 
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): SEO helps your site, and pages on your site, to improve their rankings on Google and the other search engines for relevant search terms. This can be run as a one-off project or as a continuous, retained approach. SEO consultancy would focus on new or existing pages on your website to help them grow their rankings, and visibility, around domestic/consumer food delivery search terms (e.g. “home meat delivery in Godalming”). This helps users to locate your services/products when they use Google or another search engine. This approach can be less expensive than the paid advertising options listed above, but it is not immediate and does take time to work, however, SEO can deliver excellent ROI.  
  • Social Media Marketing: Including both paid and non-paid (organic) options, social media is a solid tool to target consumers and domestic audiences. Using social media ads (as detailed above), or by simply using your own, or your businesses, social platforms as channels with which to spread the message about your offers, products or services can bring solid results if done well. 


Improving Businesses’ Digital Engagement and Conversion Rates

Once you’ve driven people to your website via paid ads, SEO or social media channels, you’ll need to develop ways to keep in touch with them, encourage them to purchase from you and spread the word about your products and your business. 

We’ve listed some very simple ideas and strategies below for you, there are thousands of possibilities in the digital marketing world, but we think these ones are a good place to start:   

  • Website Design and Build: This goes without saying – If you haven’t got a website, what are you doing here? Get your business a website built now. There are plenty of cheap and easy “build your own website” platforms out there, they’re not the best for a serious business, but if you’re a one–man-band and need something up quickly and cheaply (without worrying about the future too much) then use one of these tools. If you’re looking for something a lot more scalable and suitable for online business, then talk to a professional web designer (freelancers will likely be cheaper than agencies however, agencies will probably be in a better position to deliver more comprehensive development projects).
  • Update your Website for Conversions, User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI):  Look at your website as a journey for the user – does it lead people down rabbit holes, or push them towards your key goals (purchase, sign up etc.). Reviewing your website and implementing Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) changes can make a huge difference to engagement rates and sales. These can be as easy as simplifying your checkout process through to heatmap tracking and UX or UI projects. Focus on your target audience – what do they need to find out, what do they want and does your site make that process (or finding that information) as simple as possible? Remember that, for the purposes of this particular article, we’re focussing on consumers and domestic customers – they will have very different needs and requirements from your usual wholesale corporate or commercial customers – make sure you look at it from the target user’s perspective, not your own business perspective. 
  • Email Marketing & Email List Building: The implementation of website touchpoints such as newsletter signups in order to receive emails containing offers, discounts, news and promotions is a very sensible thing to implement and can be very straight forward to do. There are a wide range of free and paid for email marketing tools, and these can be a great way to support growth in a wholesaler’s domestic consumer-focussed email contact database. 

Hopefully, this article has covered off some of the basics of the digital marketing world for you, explained possible approaches, tactics and tools that can help you and other wholesalers in these difficult times, and given you an idea of the possibilities available to your business online.  

Digital and online marketing have just become even more important than they were before COVID-19, don’t get left behind.   

We want to support businesses through this difficult period, reducing potential economic damage and food wastage. For this reason, Web Results is offering reduced rates on our digital marketing services for wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers for a limited time.   

We are also happy to offer a free of charge initial consultancy call with a director to any organisation that has been badly hit by the crisis and is looking to explore new ways of generating, or maintaining, revenue via digital platforms. Simply contact us to request this.  

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