Business Strategies

Power Lunch: Processors Can Develop a Digital Presence that Drives Results

Online consumers shop through third-party sites, making it harder for brands to stand out among competition.

By Greg Stevens of MyWebGrocer

To drive sales, food manufacturers and brands need to create brand value by accessing and influencing customers directly. In today’s highly digital world, the best way to interact with consumers is to reach them where they are already engaged -- online.

However, developing a digital presence to interact directly with shoppers is much easier said than done for brands. For the most part, consumers shop online for groceries through retailers or third-party sites such as Instacart, as opposed to purchasing from the brands themselves. This makes it essential for brands to stand out among competition when advertising on retail and other third-party sites, while also developing their own unique digital presence.

Here is a closer look at how food brands can achieve success through the digital medium.

Shape your brand: For food companies, it’s important to remember Marketing 101: differentiate your brand. Some of the most successful food brands are achieving this by focusing on popular trends like organic, paleo, locally sourced or natural. Craft beer companies, for example, are establishing cult followings by emphasizing their local, niche qualities.

But to do this effectively, especially considering their digital-savvy target audiences, brands must shape their reputation through the digital medium. There is often a lack of shelf space available in-store to truly develop these personas. Brands need to create digital properties that define who they are by offering rich content such as blog posts, videos and recipes. This will adjust consumer’s perspective of the marketplace. Consumers, millennials in particular, often choose their preferred brands based on non-traditional marketing, such as corporate initiatives, as opposed to solely convenience or pricing.

A great example of this is HelloFresh, a food delivery company that brands itself as a provider of fresh, healthy ingredients and offers interactive content on its site to build this persona. establishes a deep connection with its customers, while also building trust, by providing thought leadership posts that explain where their meats and produce are sourced from.

Formulating a digital engagement strategy is becoming increasingly important as shoppers spend more of their time online. Millennials and Gen Z are reaching an age of significant buying power. They want to develop a relationship with the brands producing their food and turn to the Internet to do so. At a high level, they are seeking an ongoing relationship as opposed to a transactional one. Brands can build and nurture this relationship by engaging with consumers through digital channels, which is further proof that having a digital presence is essential.

Use other digital tactics: What’s important for brands to realize is that consumers are not always interacting with food & beverage brands through the brand’s owned social and digital channels -- they are also browsing retail sites, conducting Google searches and being influenced by targeted display ads on their favorite sites. Brands need to control their message across all touchpoints with a highly customized digital marketing strategy.

In other words, it’s crucial for brands to reach consumers where they are already engaged and at the point of purchase. In addition, these interactions need to be relevant and targeted based on known consumer demographics and shopping intent. The following tactics must be included in any food and beverage brand’s digital marketing toolbox if they want to be successful:

  • Merchandising: When your products are available on retail sites, they’re featured among dozens of other competing brands. So, it’s important to stand out. With help from industry-specific advertising technology, you can place your brand in front of shoppers on retail sites and expose them to your branded messaging at point of purchase. This type of technology can also help with product placement and add-to-cart functionality.
  • Display: Consumers spend their time on a handful of sites regularly, so it’s important that you’re inserting your message on relevant sites with display ads. These ads should also encourage consumer action (i.e., can be easily added to an online shopping cart) and should be optimized based on real-time searches performed by consumers.
  • Search: High-potential customers are also conducting searches in order to research food. Food & beverage brands looking to engage online need to show up in these results. Leverage the keywords of your brand and product category so that you show up in relevant online searches. As with display ads, Google Adwords must also include actionable buttons.
  • Mobile: 61 percent of Americans own a smartphone, which means it’s crucial for food and beverage brands to have a mobile presence. Whether this mobile presence is achieved through in-app ads or other display advertising, brands must incorporate a mobile strategy to remain top-of-mind among target audiences.

Ultimately, the changing landscape of grocery is unavoidable and brands must adapt to remain competitive. Consumers in the digital age shop with their phones in hand and conduct more online research before purchasing now than ever before. For brands to maximize revenue (particularly new brands without name recognition) they must develop a strong digital presence -- from an owned website to targeted search and display efforts.