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Brian Wilkinson, Chief Information Officer at KeHE Distributors
Digital transformation has accelerated over the past several years and encompasses a wide range of developments across numerous industries, from cloud communications and remote work to proprietary platform development. For food and beverage, digital transformation is changing the industry’s supply chain, sales methods, product invention, and product production. Several impactful changes include industry modernization through online business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces,new opportunities through virtual events, and the use of data and business intelligence software to uncover insights to help companies stay competitive.
Growth of Online Food Marketplaces
Digital transformation and adoption within the food and beverage industryhas resulted in a demand for online B2B food marketplaces. These marketplaces, created by small startup organizations to national scale distributors, provide easier access to an ever-expanding portfolio of diverse and innovative products through a simplified, digitally-enabled supply chain.According to a McKinsey 2021 report, there’s a shift in purchasing attitudes among B2B decision-makers, with the survey noting “Notably, 70 percent of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000.”
With online B2B marketplaces, retail operators can create stronger relationships with a broader set of suppliers, view dynamic pricing, and leverage efficiencies created through the digital platform.These efficiencies include a simpler ordering process, direct connections through virtual networking, and a platform for improvingbusiness strategy through access to information and insights.Ultimately, B2B marketplaces allow a retailer to expand their differentiation in the local market with far less effort than previously required, allowing them to stand out from the competition.
Shifting Tradeshow Model
The pandemic shifted food and beverage tradeshows (and every other industry) fromin-person,sensory experiences to all virtual or hybrid. This changed product buying and selling, and how people typically make industry connections. With virtual shows, there’s not an opportunity for in-person tasting of course, but organizations have adjusted to include at-home sampling along with enhancing the virtual view of a product. By leveraging digital content like videos and online interactive experiencing, virtual shows allow attendees to explore products digitally to enhance show experiences. The digital component also allows attendees to visit more “booths” virtually as compared to in-person, so they can expand their participation and stay abreast of the latest competitive developments.
"Digital transformation and adoption within the food and beverage industry has resulted in a demand for online B2B food marketplaces"
For networking, virtual or hybrid tradeshows offer improved lead generation and attendee interactions. The best shows encourage inter-attendee engagement by offering real-time communication through virtual networking or through integrated videos. Some can also track user behaviors during the show, giving companies insights into ways they can follow up with attendees or improve their offerings for the next show.
They also enable an expanded reach to larger potential audiences and enable significant cost savings compared to the production costs of in-person events.
Informed Data-Driven Decisions
Digital transformation also drives the way food and beverage companies leverage data. AI-powered analytics platforms allow retailers and suppliers tobetter understand previously hidden correlations. For example, it could shed light on the reasons why a store is not selling a certain product, even though on paper it has an ideal location and customer demographics.
Advanced business intelligence platforms can use predictive analytics to spot spikes or drops in demand early in the cycle, so they can adjust instead of making costly snap decisions. These platforms can reduce time-to-market by identifying data-driven exceptions, proactively reducing or eliminating bottlenecks in the supply chain. Some AI tools are shaping food and beverage by predicting the next popular flavor profiles based on troves of customer preference data. These tools can combine to give companies out-of-the-box ideas.
With AI platforms and tools in place, company managers do not need to rely solely on intuition but can make context-driven decisions for optimal efficiency and results. Tools such as KeHE CONNECT BI™, part of KeHE’s suite of business intelligence tools for its partners, give food and beverage suppliers and brokers enhanced views through AI-powered forecasting and uses feedback from both groups to improve its platform over time.
Digital transformation’s impact on food and beverage encompasses every part of the industry. Whether through new and innovative ways to source products, creative ways to conduct trade shows, or leveraging data to make informed decisions to reduce costs and improve margins, technology is forever reshaping the game. The future of the food and beverage will be shaped by technology far more than it has been in the past.