Digital marketing has revolutionised many markets. The way we do business and talk to customers is constantly evolving. In this blog I explore how digital marketing is being increasingly adopted by FMCG manufacturers to effectively reach independent retail and foodservice businesses.

Food and drink brand salesforces have been declining in numbers over the last 20 years. When I started out (in the 90’s) the major FMCG brands had hundreds of regional sales representatives or merchandisers calling on independent retail accounts every week.

Their targets were diverse, from mini supermarkets or C-store to coffee shops, hotels, bars and pubs. You could guarantee that Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Walkers, Kellogg’s and the like would have a regular call cycle and make a personal sales visit to independents. The call was a chance to build a direct relationship with the business owner, promote new products, give display advice, shape ranges, place point of sale and activate promotions.

Fast forward to now, and the relentless focus on efficiency to deliver lower factory gate prices has seen every layer of cost scrutinised. Big salesforces are largely no more. Retail consolidation and e-commerce hasn’t helped. But the days of the sales rep calling weekly on the independent corner shop, cafe manager or pub landlord are now few and far between.

Of course, why bother you might ask, when the Big 4 supermarkets still dominate UK grocery? Shouldn’t we just focus on them? And perhaps the discounters?

Independents remain a huge opportunity
Well I think convenience and foodservice outlets still represent a huge opportunity to grow your brand sales. There are more than 46,000 C-stores in the UK and over 18,500 remain independent or unaffiliated. Now remember a good C-Store can turnover well in excess of £1M per annum and you can see the size of the sales opportunity. They are free to buy. Hungry for information. And they potentially offer better margins for beacon FMCG brands.

There are many more independent pubs. CTN’s. Coffee shops. Fast food outlets. Leisure attractions. Fragmented, but fantastic opportunities. So how does your brand bridge the gap? How do you effectively reach this trade audience?

Use a digital marketing contact strategy
One solution is to fully embrace the digital marketing opportunity. We’re not talking (yet) about a holographic sales rep or robot, but a business to business contact strategy that speaks their language. Helps them with shopper insight. Gives practical range advice. Shares educational videos. Offers scalable planograms that work for their store. Expert tips that are relevant to their business. And keeps in touch regularly, using email updates.

There are some really interesting examples here for you to have a look at. From the simple, but effective Wall’s to the foodservice operator focused Tetley’s and the encyclopaedic Some closely guard their trade secrets, first requiring registration to access content, such as Mondelez International’s

Kellogg’s have been working with Brass to create, a clever trade website that helps retailers grow their breakfast and snacking business. Navigable by shopper mission and applicable to a wide range of retailers and foodservice operators. The site is searchable by brand and product. It is full of practical hints and nutritional information along with profit calculators and tools, display advice, TV ads and forthcoming offers and promotions.

Kellogg’s Vantage will never fully replace the skill of a professional sales representative, but the site can enhance a brand’s relationship with independent retailers. Providing one consistent version of the brand story and a quick and simple way to find expert advice, support and inspiration. Easy to use. Mobile optimised. It can be accessed on the shop floor in seconds. It helps maintain greater brand consistency in the absence of a regular sales visit and we’re seeing some great trade engagement already.

So if you want to maximise the independent retail sales opportunity, (and after reading this, who wouldn’t?), shouldn’t you be thinking about your digital contact strategy?

Paul McGann
Managing Partner Brass

Sources: IGD; Kantar Worldpanel

Figure 1. Independents remain a huge opportunity

Figure 2. Mondelez International’s Delicious Display website

Figure 3. Kellogg's Vantage website

Figure 4. Kellogg’s Vantage Profit Calculator tool