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For grocers and food CPGs, finding harmony online is a difficult dance

For grocers and food CPGs, finding harmony online is a difficult dance
Written by publishing team

Over its 130-year history, Del Monte Foods has become an expert in growing, packaging, and marketing everything from canned corn and green beans to plastic fruit cups stuffed with peaches and oranges.

But now, the fruit and vegetable giant is dealing with a new set of challenges that have proven difficult to overcome: navigating the dizzying array of requirements set by CPG retailers that want to sell their products online.

The process of making sure Del Monte complies with these rules, which cover everything from how the product is described to the images used, has become so time-consuming that last year it hired a full-time employee to handle the responsibility. This new position follows a move by Del Monte Foods to establish an e-commerce sales team to lead these efforts with retailers.

“There was a lot of order coming in from all of our different retailers — I mean it really became a full-time job,” said Jane Rayner, senior director of marketing and e-commerce at Del Monte Foods.

The rapid rise in online grocery shopping fueled by the pandemic has deepened fault lines between retailers and suppliers who have divergent priorities and incentives for their digital businesses. This is particularly evident with online product listings, which present both sides with an acute workload of development and deployment. But while retailers say they need to maintain strict control over the approval process and the flow of consumer data, suppliers say they struggle with ineffective standards and grocers don’t keep menus updated.

CPGs, which in many cases oversee a portfolio of thousands of different SKUs, face a myriad of requirements for selling items online – rules that are further complicated by the fact that what is required at one retailer may be vastly different at another.

Images often have to be displayed using a specific format. How the product is described to drive traffic can be subject to different requirements and word count. A retailer such as Kroger may define terms such as vegan or organic differently than Whole Foods. Then how this offer is ultimately published varies – whether it is uploaded live or populated on a different platform to ensure continuity.

CPG should keep tabs on their listings over time to ensure they are current and up to date. But any changes they want to make often need retailers’ approval – a process that can take weeks or even months.

Optional caption

Permission granted by Del Monte Foods

Sam Slover, co-founder and CEO of Pinto, which helps companies manage their products in the e-commerce channel, said he was surprised by the “dullness and confusion of the processes” for listing a product online.

These processes are often complicated by incomplete or inaccurate information, such as ingredient changes or updated packaging, that is no longer current or accurate online.

At the same time, while retailers have little difficulty collecting information such as a product name, an image showing the introduction to the offer, or product dimensions — data already used in traditional physical retail formats — Slover said it may be even more difficult for them to collect the so-called Customer Facing Data needed for modern e-commerce or digital retail.

This information includes things like the nutrition, allergens, diets or lifestyles the product is suitable for, its flavor, and the search terms it qualifies for. These attributes play an important role in helping the consumer search and find something specific such as keto snacks or low-sugar vanilla yogurt in the store’s inventory. Increasingly, outside companies are being contracted to help collect and organize this information.

Slover said about e-commerce in the food space.

come up with solutions

The rules that grocery sellers impose on suppliers who want to be on their e-commerce channels reflect an effort to control the online experience that retailers provide to shoppers.

“We filter a lot of excess products that are out there and have a very tedious process in order to get an item on board, [so] “The chances are if you find anything on Westside, it’s a proven ingredient,” said George Zoetas, CEO of Westside Market, a chain of seven grocery stores in Manhattan. [need to] To help retailers who stand behind their product because, at the end of the day, we are the point of sale.”

Zoetas, however, said the wholesalers he works with are developing streamlined systems that make it easier for the chain to get what it needs to add products to its e-commerce platforms, such as digital images, or better descriptions and features for filters to enhance the customer experience.

“It’s getting there a lot faster now,” he said. “It’s sort of flattened things out and people are integrating a lot better.”

Zoitas added that as many as 20% of the products carried by his stores don’t end up on the company’s e-commerce sites, mainly because manufacturers haven’t provided Westside-requiring details like a high-quality image, a clear description, or an expected lifespan.

Manufacturers [need to] To help retailers who stand behind their product because, at the end of the day, we are the point of sale.”

George Zoetas

CEO, Westside Market

John Ross, CEO of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), a network of food retailers, said small grocers often face significant challenges managing what they do on their websites and store shelves because many consumer goods companies use third parties To handle their relationships with retailers. It has about 1,200 members in the United States.

Ross said IGA has developed resources to help smaller grocers stay on the product manufacturer’s radar. Ross added that IGA is harnessing the collective power of the retailers it represents to help suppliers or their representatives persuade grocers to move their products online and in-store, as well as simplify the process of collecting product images and other details for use online.

Representatives of the country’s largest grocery chain by number of stores – Kroger, Albertsons and Ahold Delhees – did not respond to requests for comment about their relationships with product manufacturers.

The process for listing products on a retailer’s website has improved significantly over the past few years, said Elly Truesdell, a former Whole Foods CEO who oversaw local brands and product innovations. But Truesdell, who recently left as a partner at Almanac Insights to launch a New Fare investment fund, said the biggest hurdle remains keeping the product list updated to include things like new packaging, more relevant keywords, descriptions or other details — a particularly cumbersome process for a retailer that oversees over tens of thousands of SKUs.

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Permission granted by Mercatos

The rationale would be to make CPG accountable for these responsibilities, but doing so, she said, creates its own challenges, including the possibility that the food maker may try to give itself an unfair advantage over its competitors, or that it struggles to comply with listing requirements. The retailer also risks ceding at least some power over its online store to CPGs.

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