The next time you’re sitting around the table with your other food entrepreneur friends, ask them whether or not you should have a company website. You’ll probably get more responses than you can listen to. It’s like the old joke that if you pose a question to three people you’ll get four answers. All jokes aside, the question comes up a lot and just about everyone who runs a food business seems to have an opinion on the topic.
A dedicated web presence for your company serves as the "official" voice of all things related to your products and your business. Without an official website, customers will get information about your business from somewhere else. Do you really want to leave that to others?
It’s our position at Food Methods that nearly all food businesses are well-advised to have and maintain a website that reflects their products and their brand. Food affects people on a very personal level. Standing in the aisle of the grocery store reading ingredient panels doesn’t begin to describe the level of interest (and scrutiny) consumers show towards the products they buy. Your food company website can become a way to connect with consumers about your products, your business practices, and your passion. Without one, they’re less likely to develop trust and confidence in your brand.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and similar accounts may be helpful but should not be seen as substitutes for a full-featured website. Social media should be viewed as serving a different purpose from a website in the realm of your overall web presence. As you formulate your social media strategy, consider the likelihood that advertisements for your competitors’ products may start appearing next to your company’s social media content and there’s little you can do about it.
Our reasons for suggesting that all food businesses should have a company website are many but the overall philosophy behind this view boils down to one important truth: a dedicated web presence for your company serves as the "official" voice of all things related to your products and your business. Without an official website, customers (and all others including members of the press) are on their own when searching for information about your business. What that means is that you’ll essentially be letting others do your talking for you. Do you really want that? Without an official website for your food business, customers and others will turn elsewhere for information about your products and suppliers may not take you as seriously which can be limiting.
Your website presents a wonderful opportunity to inspire consumers and tell your story the way you want it told. It is more important to have a website that conveys authenticity than it is to have one that is perfect. And producing one inexpensively by starting modestly and growing it from there is a great approach.
Another fact to consider is that some people will not take your business seriously without a website. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal at first but it can end up costing you. For example, we know one packaging supplier who is reluctant to extend credit to companies that do not have a website - and they don’t even check Facebook. This supplier regards such companies as temporary and somewhat unprofessional. So firms that lack a website are stuck paying in advance for materials from that supplier.
From a branding and marketing perspective, the benefits of having a website and keeping it current are incalculable. There is no better way to tell your story and get your message across than with inspired, tasteful web content that reflects your unique branding. Consumers of fine food products tend to want to know about what they are eating and they will go searching for it. Your website presents a wonderful opportunity to provide compelling information to discerning eaters 24 hours a day. Otherwise the narrative about your products, your company (and even you) will be told by someone other than you who may or may not have your best interests in mind.
We know one packaging supplier who is reluctant to extend credit to companies that do not have a website - and they don’t even check Facebook. They regard uch companies as temporary and somewhat unprofessional.
How you go about bringing your food business website into existence is not as important as having one out there. There are many ways a food product startup can produce a website (at little or no cost) that reflects favorably on their business. Some business owners may feel reluctant to launch their site if it’s not professionally-designed and perfect in every way.
Savvy food entrepreneurs know that perfection is less important that authenticity when it comes to their website. A great approach is to start modestly with a few key pages and grow the site from there. It’s far more approachable to think about adding content to an existing website at a reasonable pace, rather than waiting for the ultimate site to be built. Not only will this approach ease the pressure, but it will increase the possibility that consumers who are eager for insight about your company will continue to be interested in your company and your products.
Whether you’re planning a website for your food business or already have one, here are some things to include that can provide real value to you and your customers.
The process customers go through when deciding whether or not to purchase foods often goes well beyond flavor and packaging. For many customers knowing something about the company and the people who make the foods they eat is very important. Telling the story of how you came to offer your products can be a deciding factor. Telling your story on your company website is a great way to share your passion and commitment.
Providing customers with the way to contact you is extremely important. Many people are surprised by the number of customers and potential customers who want more information or need to ask questions. The simplest way to accomplish this is to provide an e-mail address. This is not without some disadvantages, however, because an e-mail account can quickly be overrun with spam. A better solution is to provide a form that website visitors can fill out. The form should have a field for the visitors e-mail address or phone number so you can contact them if necessary. But if possible, include a way to filter out Internet robots which have become a big problem in recent years.
The ingredient listing on your website can extend well beyond what is printed on your product label. It can include your reasons for selecting those ingredients as well as the care and high standards you apply when purchasing them. Another possible bit of information about your ingredients could be some selected profiles of your suppliers. Again customers like to know about their food and supplier profiles can further enrich your own story.
Where to buy
This can be as simple as a list of stores that carry your products but be sure to keep it updated as new retailers come online. As the list of outlets that sell your products grows, consider organizing the list in a meaningful way other than simple alphabetical order (or the order in which they were added). Consider the thought process of someone looking for your product. They may want to know where your products are sold nearby them so grouping outlets by neighborhood or similar geographic area can be useful. We frequently see interactive maps included on the "where to buy" section of websites. These can provide some value but they are not absolutely necessary.
People love recipes. Including recipes that call for your product (and even some that do not call for your product) can be a great way to keep visitors coming back to your website. Recipes that call for your product can be a great way to expand the boundaries of the foods you sell. If your product is not generally used as an ingredient in recipes, consider a pairings page and other ways to highlight your product's appeal.
A listing or calendar of upcoming appearances and in-store demos is another way to keep visitors returning to your website. Be sure to keep this listing up to date if you include it. Otherwise it will give the appearance that your website is not maintained and can be discouraging to some visitors.
Advances in web development tools have made it easier to include a “buy now” button alongside product descriptions and images. Some e-commerce services focus on this and make it easy and affordable to conduct online sales.
It doesn’t take much to create an online journal to add interest to your website and your overall food operation. The blog can provide your visitors with additional information about your business that they would not know otherwise. It can be a way to create a personal connection with your customers that encourages loyalty.
A must for any website is that it support viewing on mobile devices. Websites that lack mobile support simply fit the entire web page on smaller screens by shrinking the view and requiring the visitor to enlarge the page manually. Most modern web sites will automatically adjust the view to fit the screen it's on. The technical term for this capability is called "responsive web design" because the view responds appropriately to different devices. Many web platforms such as WordPress have this feature built-in and any professional web developer should already be familiar with how to bring this about.
You may need a web developer to help you implement some of these suggestions. There are also some excellent online website creation tools that can help you bring about a good website without in-depth technical expertise. A pleasing, simple design is all that is required. Your customers and potential customers will be influenced more by the feeling you put into it rather than a flashy, over produced design.
One common statistic says that upwards of 85% of consumers use the Internet to find information about local businesses. Statistics aside, it's important for your food business to have a Website that speaks directly to your consumers. Your brand and message is too important to leave in the hands of others.
Last Updated: 05/12/2020