Procurement specialists in the food supply chain have a lot of "ands" to contend with. The products they source and purchase must be delicious and readily available, affordable and safe. The near-explosive growth of boutique and specialty providers in the food industry have driven consumer demand beyond high-end markets in recent years. Coupled with consumer awareness steering ethical buying practices, there are far more "ands" to consider in today's procurement market.
Are your procurement approaches ready to tackle this enticing new opportunity head on?
Yes, You'll Still Need Volume
While some small eateries may be fortunate enough to have boutique food product providers close by, the vast majority of food retailers and facilities do not. Tying up capital and work hours sourcing from a dozen small, intermittent providers can put your core business on the line, a risk that just doesn't pay off in the long run.
The best course of action is to seek out supply chain partners that can assist on two fronts — both traditional food products, such as bulk bacon, and specialty products, such as natural bacon, that may satisfy a lucrative niche but not the majority of volume in an order. If your current suppliers don't or aren't willing to offer products from both categories, it might be time to consider a switch — or, at the very least, to add a secondary supplier now in preparation for an eventual transition.
The value of specialty sourcing can be further filtered into customer-facing marketing when combined with the right logistics. A recent study from the University of Buffalo found that consumers favored tracking when determining trustworthiness in their farm-to-table styled fare.
Examine Your Source Carefully
Unfortunately, just because a product may be labeled "all natural"or bear a similar buzz-worthy term, it doesn't necessarily mean the company providing it is embodying those traits. Consumer examination doesn't always end at the packaging level, and if your sourcing company is cashing in on an ethical trend without "walking the walk," it will come to light sooner or later.
It benefits you to discuss work processes and environmental goals with your food supply chain partners on several levels; their bullet points can easily become your own in co-marketing agreements.
Additionally, cautions a recent article in Food Industry Logistics, their in-house storage and logistics setup will need to be assessed. Particularly in the case of low or no-preservative food products, proper refrigeration can mean the difference between a popular natural product and a food illness scandal waiting to happen.
Understand the Demand
Noting the end result of trends — speaking in terms of business, not necessarily popularity — is not nearly as helpful to your brand as understanding their root cause and movements. Take time to discuss needs and desires with end consumers. Don't be afraid to wade into consumer-created content, such as blogs and social media accounts, to see what customers are saying in the moment. If you tune in not only to the conversations of your business peers, but those of the audience you serve, you can gain deeper insight into popular movements such as farm-to-table.
For example, if you market on ethical sourcing alone and neglect to remind customers of the superior flavor and quality of your specialty food items, you may not have the success and numbers you're hoping for. Take a holistic approach to providing specialty products and make sure your customers remain vital participants in that conversation.
Your food supply chain already faces a lot of challenges, so it's understandable if the added burden of securing, verifying and marketing specialty products doesn't sound appealing. However, don't make the mistake of thinking products in the natural, organic and ethically sourced categories will decrease in demand over time. According to Cox Target Media, concepts such as health-consciousness and environmentally-consciousness are becoming part of the mainstream product offering, increasing in volume and variety with each passing quarter.
Don't let your brand's market share slip due to inattentiveness. Get acquainted with the power of specialty products and providers now, and remain both competitive and compelling.