Mobilising the food business

Mobilising the food business

Twitter can help generate sales

Smartphones and tablet technology have handed the fresh food industry a set of low-cost tools to help manage a business, but are people taking advantage?

The development of mobile technology has challenged the assumption that to grow a business requires a large economic investment.

Smartphones and tablets have helped to usher in an era of media and applications that offer businesses the means not only to communicate to customers 24/7, but also to manage their operations. Yet how many companies are fully embracing these opportunities?

According to a survey of 2,000 small to medium-sized companies (SMEs) in 21 different countries conducted in 2013 by Oxford Economics, some 43% of respondents “indicated they have trouble encouraging employees to embrace social media”, and 31% had problems getting staff to even use mobile technology.

Reluctance to engage with mobile technology obviously has a negative impact on an SME competing against the might of major corporations, and this is particularly relevant in the fresh food sector, which is dominated by the large chain supermarkets.

The organisation Love Your Local Market is hoping to help the covered and street market sector to get to grips with new technology with a series of free workshops taking place around the UK this year.

In the run-up to Love Your Local Market fortnight in May, anyone involved with markets is welcome to attend the workshops being delivered by Connected Places UK.

“The use of social media is an absolute must,” says Ellie Gill of Love Your Local Market.

“And most important is that people use evaluation tools alongside social media, so they know that people are listening.”

Gill adds that while Twitter and Facebook are by far the most recognisable mediums, there are great examples of fresh food businesses using Instagram and other mobile apps effectively.

She cites Borough Market’s use of Foursquare, which allows traders to offer end-of-the-day food deals through the app that Gill says local residents in particular are using, meaning that stall holders are seeing a reduction in waste.

App developer Sen Sampanthar says that the fresh food industry, in particular retailers of all sizes, need to be aware that today four-fifths of consumers use their phones as part of the food shopping process.

However, the mobile market is flooded with food-related apps, and therefore businesses need to really research the ones that they get involved with.

“Some 40% of apps have a retention rate of around 90 days,” says Sampanthar. “Before committing I would say drill into the statistics, who is engaging with this app and for how long?”

Sampanthar is in the process of developing the ShopKonnect app, which he claims offers SMEs the type of customer data collection that large retailers are able to make use of but with a fraction of the cost involved.

Matthew Hunt, business development manager for app developer Apadmi, agrees that for an SME, the cost of developing its own applications can be prohibitive. But he adds that before a business rushes to get involved with the latest media, it could take a fresh look at some of the mobile features it already has at its disposal.

He adds that text messages are still a valuable and easy to use means of communication.

“It’s simple and it works across generations. While older customers may not be engaging in Twitter, or just use Facebook for keeping track of family, they will be familiar with text messages,” says Hunt.

“But as with all communication, it needs to be used appropriately. Your customers need to know that you’re not going to spam them so only send out messages when you have something that will interest them.”

Email remains a useful tool for businesses, he says, especially services such as Mailchimp, which offers easy to use analytics that show who is engaging with the email.

Hunt says that one of the downsides of social media is that sometimes it can be chance as to whether people see the information being put out depending upon how often a user checks their feeds, or how much other communication they are receiving.

Therefore, any business opening up a social media account needs to understand how to best use it, how to target information, and invest time in working out who is engaging with it and how better to meet their needs.

The fresh food industry has a great advantage over many other sectors when it comes to social media thanks to the huge interest in the product it trades in.

Such is the fascination with food among consumers that according to research by the Digital Blonde Marketing agency, some 46% of people will share an image of the dish they’ve ordered before they have even tried it. However, the main reason given for sharing a food image was the poster’s pride that they had made the meal themselves.

This desire for snap worthy food is feeding back up the chain, with chefs, caterers, and retailers searching for produce to delight customers with.

Nick Matthews, southwest regional director for wholesaler Total Produce, says his business has benefited from this process. Matthews was an early adopter of Twitter, and gives examples of where its use has helped to generate sales for the company.

“It has really helped us to develop relationships with chefs,” he says. “We’ll put up pictures of produce in the morning, and then we’ll start seeing orders for it the same day.

“Although a lot of our customers are aware of, say, English asparagus, and they might be aware of when the season starts, they are not going to know the exact date of when it’s available given the weather patterns we have here, and that’s where Twitter helps. We can make our customers, and their customers, aware with one tweet that it’s now available.”

Matthews explains that not only has mobile technology opened up new market opportunities, it is also transforming the way the wholesalers conduct sales. A simple example is how Total Produce uses tablet technology to send customers a receipt direct to their smartphones.

For a fresh food business looking for future direction, the answer could be a download away.

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