Almost all foodservice manufacturers have some kind of web presence. But how do you know if yours truly meets the needs of operators? To find out what they’re looking for, our team at the Marlin Network has interviewed a diverse panel of operators and taken a look at what’s happening in the larger digital universe to compile some must-have features.

In our 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase report, we found one-fifth of operators say they start their purchase process with an online search. And over half say that online ordering is highly valuable. So while it’s true many foodservice operators still rely heavily on their DSRs for product advice and order placement, today’s sites must be able to replicate and even build on that experience. Here are four key ways to do just that:

1. Content, Content, Content!

It’s been said before and worth saying again: content is king. Great websites—the sites people turn to again and again—have an endless and always-new supply of valuable content. In the case of operators, the content they want is all about the trends in food. Their businesses live or die by the ability to keep up with what consumers want now and next. Your rich reserves of that knowledge should be shared—often.

Trend and consumer insight reports, industry articles, chef observations, and even your own editorial take on research data are excellent fodder for operator education and inspiration. Nestle Professional and ConAgra Foodservice are two examples of manufacturer sites already moving down this path with articles on flavor trends, plate presentation tips and more. The McCain Foodservice site also provides insight into larger consumer trends like all-day breakfast and takeout and delivery.

2. Digital Commerce

If you’re a consumer in 2018, chances are you buy many of the things you want and need online. Foodservice operators are consumers too. So in the B2B space, they increasingly expect the same type of ordering convenience they get when they buy books, or shoes or dog food for their own household.

E-commerce additions to foodservice sites are still rare but are popping up on the radar. U.S. Foods, for example, says 55% of its independent operators order from its self-service e-commerce, up about 10% from 2013. That has led to a 7% increase in order value and a 5% increase in customer retention. The secret to successful e-commerce is simply making sampling and ordering functions easy to find and use right from the home page. 

Download the 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase white paper.

3. Easy-to-Access Customer Service

Immediate, always-available service has become a mainstay among top retailers and food chains. Their sites feature messaging apps and chat bots that answer questions and allow order placement at any time of the day or night. For example, Wingstop’s chat bot works on Facebook Messenger and Twitter so that consumers don’t even have to download another app. Operators as consumers now expect the same when they purchase items for their business. The 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase report reveals that operators (specifically those who begin their pre-purchase research online) value easy access to ordering and allergen information. Bringing that information to the forefront will continue to be a must as manufacturer marketers enhance their sites.

4. More Visuals, Less Text

Last but not least, the way site information is presented bears rethinking as younger, digitally savvy millennial operators have grown up with highly visual web experiences from YouTube videos to Instagram. To communicate in their “language,” think about adding recipe videos, upgrading food photography or offering more how-to video content such tips for packaging to-go food. The payout is well worth it. Studies show that including a video on the landing page can increase conversion rates by 80%.One foodservice manufacturer that has done a great job of incorporating this more visual approach is Land O' Lakes Foodservice. The home page makes good use of icons, big, eye-catching photography and minimalistic text to create an easy-to-navigate site.

What works in the digital realm will continue to change as new technologies and new generations of users enter the marketplace. By giving your website a regular user experience “checkup,” you can keep pace with the changes and open the door to new revenue and operator relationships.

1Marlin Network 2019 Influencing the Operator Purchase Report

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