In 2016 and 2020, Foodservice IP conducted in-depth research on the role of e-commerce in the foodservice operator supply chain, with the aim of informing manufacturers on how to best serve their customers. This year, we updated and expanded our research to track the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to present a truly 360º view of e-commerce in the foodservice marketplace.
While our findings are best tailored to individual companies, three findings all operators should know about are: customers’ procurement approach, preferred vendors, and additional services offered by e-commerce companies.
Approach to Procurement: Traditional Methods are Still King, But Not for Long
According to our research, while 40% of foodservice operators make purchases online, 60% still purchase through traditional methods (e.g., broadline, cash-n-carry, warehouse, bottler direct). However, the online segment is growing quickly. While companies can, and should, focus on their core approach to service and delivery, those who fail to develop e-commerce capabilities do so at their peril.
Preferred e-Procurement Vendors
We also asked the foodservice operators who use online procurement platforms which vendors they use. Sysco and US Foods Direct were by far the most popular, with 36% and 32% of the market share respectively. Amazon/Amazon Business was in a distant third place, with 9% of participants saying they ordered through it.
Of note, only 1% of operators use a General Purchase Order website. While e-commerce is dominated by Sysco and US Foods, the growth-oriented field is open for additional competitors.
Additional e-Commerce Services
In addition to the delivery of foodservice products (i.e., food, beverages, and non-food items), operators reported that their e-commerce vendors provided them with additional services. While operators reported a number of additional services, the most commonly reported were:
Ongoing Communications and Newsletters (30%): Nearly one third of foodservice operators reported that they receive newsletters or other knowledge sharing communications from their main e-procurement platform.
Specialized Distribution (28%): More than one quarter of foodservice operators reported receiving delivery and logistics that is tailored to their needs.
Other common services e-commerce platforms provided include market insights (18%) and menu services (14%). Since convenience and service, rather than price, is the main differentiator for online foodservice vendors, these additional services can help e-commerce providers maintain a competitive edge.
The Bottom Line
Between the pandemic and the rise of e-commerce, the foodservice supply chain and operator procurement practices have undergone a true sea change.
While many operators are loyal to their sales representatives, the growing use of e-commerce for foodservice procurement is a major change for the industry.
While the importance of e-commerce-only firms has risen, the strong preference for Sysco and US Foods, and the role of additional services are critical for all supply chain actors to know about. Each manufacturers’ approaches should be strategic and tailored to their specific relationship with customers.
Foodservice IP can discuss this research with you in more detail and help you think through how to apply it to your business model. Contact us to learn more.