How to Drive Sales for Your Online Food and Beverage Business

Create an appetite for what you offer with this comprehensive e‑commerce marketing strategy.

E-commerce is booming in the food and beverage industry. One consumer survey suggests that by 2025, online orders will make up 15% to 20% of food and beverage sales—that's 10 times more market share than food and beverage e-commerce held in 2016.

Gift items, like gourmet popcorn and chocolates, are perennial favorites online. But as e-commerce sales become more normalized, people are increasingly turning to the internet to buy groceries and specialized foods that they would have trouble finding elsewhere.

Socially and ecologically conscious shoppers are driving a trend toward foods like plant-based proteins and non-dairy milks. Customers are also flocking to foods with added health benefits—think collagen-enhanced protein shakes and gourmet teas that give you energy, help you sleep, or support your immune system. There's a huge market for aesthetically pleasing specialty foods like starfruit and macarons, especially if your customers are in the Instagram demographic.

No matter what products you offer, you can build your audience online. Here are the strategies that will get you there.

1. Determine what will make your business unique

In any market, you need to have a unique selling proposition. Your online food and beverage business should stand out from the competition, and it’s up to you to decide how.

Your first decision is what kinds of food and beverage to sell. Online grocery is increasingly popular—particularly since the outbreak of COVID-19 —attracting more than 30% of US shoppers in a single month as of March 2020. In August of 2019, that number was just 13%.

It’s clear that many people are comfortable with ordering perishable and semi-perishable foods for delivery. The question is: What should you offer? Cured meats for sale? Or maybe a cheese of the month club?

Specialty items, like gourmet coffees and teas, also make good online business models. So do other beverages, from beer and wine to soft drinks and juices. If you already have ideas about what you want to sell, do some research and find out if people are buying similar products. If there's a market demand, then congratulations—you've found your new business niche.

2. Establish your product portfolio

Once you have a business model in mind, you can start planning your product portfolio.

New businesses should typically start small—perhaps you offer only a few items at first. As your business grows, you can track what products are the most popular and get the most positive reviews. You may even get suggestions and requests for products that you might not have thought of yourself.

Once you begin getting feedback on your current offerings, you can start building a more standard inventory. Growing your business this way lets you make sure that you’re meeting customers’ needs.

3. Develop an inventory and pricing strategy

Keep in mind that the type of storage you choose can increase your business costs, especially if you have to refrigerate. If you’re selling grocery items, will you need to have your own stock and storage? That can drive your costs up, especially if you have to refrigerate.

One alternative is to set up a dropshipping arrangement. Dropshipping allows you to ship directly from a distributor or supplier without having an inventory of your own. You don’t have to pay to store your inventory or even worry about packing and shipping.

If you’re selling fresh to order items, like candies or baked goods, you’ll need a space to prepare, pack, and ship your products. This is the time to think about logistics like:

  • Where will you do your food prep?
  • How will you source ingredients?
  • What kind of cooking equipment do you need?
  • Do you need any other staff?
  • How will you package your products?

4. Create a marketing plan to drive excitement

Start by setting up a “coming soon” landing page featuring your logo and brand colors. Using Mailchimp, you can build a page like this in just a few clicks—and you can even reserve your custom domain. To make the most of traffic that comes to this page, be sure to include an email list signup form.

Email any contacts you already have with a link to your new site and invite them to follow you on social media. Your social media accounts will be particularly important as you build anticipation for your grand opening. Post regularly and include links to your page so people can sign up for updates.

5. Prepare for launch

When you’re ready to start selling, select an e-commerce platform. Make sure you connect your online store and marketing platform so that you get the full picture of your customer analytics. Mailchimp’s all-in-one Marketing Platform easily connects to the major e-commerce stores.

Once that basic connection is in place, you can set up the ecommerce integrations you need to make your business work. That might be anything from accounting software and payment processing technology to shipping logistics.

The last thing to do before you launch is make sure that you have a way for customers to review your products. Reviews increase consumer confidence in your product, which increases your likelihood of gaining new buyers. According to research, displayed customer reviews increase conversion rates by approximately 190% for lower-priced products and as much as 380% for higher-priced items.

Most people aren’t in the habit of leaving reviews, though, so you’ll have better luck if you make it easy. Display a review box prominently on your product page. Or, better yet, design automated post-purchase emails to capture reviews from customers.

6. Announce your opening

Once you’ve built buzz for your big opening, it’s time to make that opening happen. Create an email campaign to invite people to check out your newly opened store. You can even include a coupon as a way of saying thanks to those followers for jumping on board early.

You’ll want to announce the website launch on social media too. Schedule a series of social posts, maybe including a countdown leading up to your grand opening day. With Mailchimp, you can set the dates and automate these posts so you can focus on starting your business.

Remember that your grand-opening publicity shouldn’t stop on the day you open. Continue to announce that you’re now open for business, highlighting different products and showcasing what makes your business unique.

7. Market with promotions and announcements

Momentum is important. You’ve put a lot of effort into promoting your grand opening, and you want to keep the excitement going. The following tactics will help you do that, so use them early and often.

New products

As a new online food and beverage business, you’ll probably be adding items regularly to your product portfolio. Those new items will sell faster and better if you promote them with email announcements and social media posts.

Best sellers

People feel good buying things that a lot of other people have bought and loved. It’s the same social proof principle that makes reviews work—customers trust other customers, often more than they trust their friends.

When you show customers which of your products are most popular, you drive more conversions on those products. As some of your products begin to stand out as best sellers, use that information to boost sales even more.

Promo codes

Promo codes are great ways of encouraging people to make that first purchase, or to branch out and try a different product than they usually get. You can include promo codes on your social media pages or use them to create segmented email campaigns, which let you send targeted messages to groups of audience members based on their interests.

You can get the most out of your promotions by tracking them to see which ones work best. Do your audiences respond best to percent-off offers? Free shipping? Only they can tell you, so keep an eye on your audience analytics.

8. Keep your business growing

Early buzz is important, but to keep your business thriving, you need to build loyalty among your early adopters and continue to find new customers. It’s hard to find a balance between seeking new opportunities and taking care of the customers you already have, but these always-on marketing tactics can help.

Personalization tools

As your business grows, you'll want to have tools that let you personalize at scale using automation, so you can minimize the work you have to do manually.

Behavioral targeting considers what people in your audience are shopping for and personalizes messaging accordingly. This strategy works well for a growing business. Lookalike audience finders, on the other hand, use that same data to find new customers, placing social media ads in front of people whose interests are similar to those of your best customers.

Upselling products

As your business grows, continue to send out product recommendations. Upselling works well when you're starting to build a strong customer base.

When you upsell, you suggest a more expensive product to complement or replace an existing purchase. An upsell message is an effective add-on to an order notification, and can be a helpful tactic for creating future email campaigns that really boost revenue.

Abandoned cart automations

Some people will browse your site, add products to a cart, and click away without buying. If you set up an abandoned cart automation to remind these users that their cart is still there, you can win them back.

These emails can be simple reminders—“You forgot something!”—or you can add a promo code to entice them. For Mailchimp users, abandoned cart emails like these generate an additional $619 in revenue per month on average.

Product follow-up automations

When people have just bought something from your store, you’re at the top of their minds. You can take advantage of this fact by sending out follow-up emails after a purchase. Thank the person for shopping, ask them to leave you a review, and recommend other products you think they might like.

Social media post scheduling

It’s important to keep your social media pages active with regular posts. When you use Mailchimp’s social post scheduling tool, you can auto-publish updates when and where your audiences will see them.

If you keep your marketing going consistently, your online food and beverage business can maintain customer interest and excitement long after your first day.

Find food and beverage business success online

Online food and beverage sales are trending. To make an impact on this growing market, your business needs:

  • A unique value proposition
  • A product portfolio based on customer needs and interests
  • Inventory and a pricing plan
  • An e-commerce storefront to make sales and collect customer data
  • A marketing strategy to build excitement, both leading up to and after your big opening
  • A passionate owner or marketer at the helm to promote the brand

Mailchimp is here to help you grow your business every step of the way. So what are you waiting for? You’ve got this. Now it's time to get online and start building your food and beverage business. Your future customers await.