Updated: Mar 11, 2021
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed our lives and has taken a terrible toll on the foodservice industry. I was just reading how one of my absolute favorite restaurant groups here in Boston will be shuttering their flagship concepts due to the pandemic and a variety of other factors. The way forward for many restaurants remains uncertain. This uncertainty is also true for many restaurant chains.
My business is focused on larger chain restaurants, and throughout the pandemic, we’ve all had to adapt to new ways of working no matter whether you were on the brand side or the supplier side. Almost every meeting became a virtual meeting. Sample of products were sent to people’s homes. We’ve hosted virtual tastings, virtual trends tours, virtual ideations, and virtual coffees and cocktail hours. Webinars and virtual conferences have taken over our schedules. Teams scheduled lab time to get projects completed on the bench without overloading the space. Many great teams and people found a way to get things done despite all the upheaval.
One area I’d say that has been really strained is the ability to create new relationships from scratch. Without some of the in person networking opportunities to meet new prospective clients or suppliers, creating new connections has been a challenge. Existing relationships have been easier to nurture, but it has been harder as the longer the pandemic drags on without the ability to meet in person. That in person connection really allows all parties to enjoy the bond you have when working on a project, and provide the value your customer or supplier needs. Relationships are so important in this business, and it’s easy to let them shift to just being transactional.
So, what does that mean to the title question of this article? Has COVID-19 changed foodservice sales for good?
Short term there have definitely been significant changes. Fundamentally, however, what makes a great supplier really great hasn’t changed. Your ability to succeed lies in your ability to effectively communicate your value to your potential client. You have to be able to communicate your points of differentiation well and why that client should choose you when working on a solution for the future.
You have to know the industry well, and to succeed you need to know how and why foodservice is different than other channels you work within. You have to know what types of support are needed throughout the go to market process, and you have to understand the nuances of that process to be successful selling throughout it.
Great suppliers do their homework on their prospects, showing they care enough to understand what their brand and menu strategy are. They actually visit their customers restaurants and try their food and beverages to see how they can help with the menu of the future!
World class suppliers also spend a lot of time with their value proposition. These suppliers ensure they appropriately address their target customers with a best in class presentation that is relevant to their needs, as opposed to showing slide after slide on capabilities and pictures of their plants with how many square feet they have in production.
Leaders of these great companies know the reasons behind why they are successful, and they can translate that to other customers who seem to be in the same category, but in fact are completely different types of business. Top performers also equip their team with the right resources when entering foodservice for the first time so they’re quickly educated on what it takes to be successful. These organizations employ veteran salespeople who constantly seek out ways to learn even more to be valuable to their clients.
Sales success is possible even amidst a pandemic. People remain hungry for innovation and the best companies have not taken their foot off the gas on supercharging their innovation pipeline. I can even share a personal success story – recently two separate clients launched products with chains. That is no small feat in these times. I strongly feel they were successful because they executed on these fundamentals.
Personally, I’m excited to get back together in person with clients and customers, share stories, enjoy their company and create value for them. Exercising these fundamentals, and adapting them to the uncertain future is a solid plan that puts you in a strong position to be relevant and top of mind for your customers.