Food brokers quickly adjusted to COVID changes – finding new ways to add value for manufacturers.
“What I love about the foodservice industry is that it’s dynamic and ever changing,” Mindy Kopacz, VP of Sales Operations, Training & Planning for Affinity Group told me.
And boy, did we get some changes in 2020.
Mindy explained various industry dynamics and COVID trends, as told through the eyes of a food industry sales agency. During the pandemic, Affinity Group kept its finger on the pulse of industry changes through research, partner connections, and technology.
Since foodservice operations had flipped upside down, the agency leaned into qualitative feedback from its operator community. Mindy says, “We gather questions from our manufacturer partners and learn the answers through the operator community.”
Affinity Group held quarterly client symposiums that constructed insights and implications which were shared more broadly via webinar. Those insights helped manufacturers develop much-needed solutions:
- What new products operators need
- What trends are gaining traction
- How operators plan to order products
“We find the operators’ pain points – take the information back to our client partners – and kick around creative ways to add value beyond standard product and category offerings,” Mindy adds.
Manufacturers have relied on sales agencies to get into local markets – made more critical with COVID travel restrictions.
Affinity Group promotes itself as the ‘Bridge to Success’ particularly at the local level. “Our team has been fully engaged since day one,” Mindy continues. Every market is different. Reopening regulations change depending on where you are. So, being active and flexible while fostering conversations with industry partners is important when it comes to navigating the pandemic.
“Our sales team has stayed connected and is proactive. There’s a lot of collaboration,” Mindy says. “We’re wearing the same jerseys; we’re on the same team and sharing information. We spent considerable time and energy with stepped-up training with our sales associates.”
Specifically, Mindy calls out the great work of Affinity Group’s K-12 team. She says, “The school foodservice dynamic completely changed. Our team was very engaged and supportive to school districts – finding innovative ideas to help with labor and delivery challenges.” In some cases, the team provided recipes, or ideas on how to use in-stock items. They even helped source individually wrapped or easy to heat-and-serve items that the districts may not have purchased before.
There’s an advantage with technology – Affinity Group uses analytics tools and gap planners by market, by client, and by segment. Mindy explains, “We look at the data and encourage a conversation. We follow changes and chase down relevant opportunities.”
Typically, this data – that shows a combination of actual results and future opportunities – is shared with manufacturer partners, in an agreed upon cadence. Mindy adds, “The technology yields visuals and drill down capabilities, which help focus the conversation on what can be learned and how to adjust for what needs to be done.” While these data sharing efforts started pre-COVID, Affinity Group invested more heavily in them during the pandemic.
Going forward, Affinity Group will keep exploring efficiencies… whether it’s process improvements or “strengthening partnerships with our tech vendors like Blacksmith – we’re asking, what can we do more of together?”
Benefits of Foodservice Sales Agencies
Foodservice manufacturers often turn to food brokers because:
- TIME: When a broker spends time on selling, you can spend time on other important business activities.
- FEEDBACK: With a relationship with other industry players, brokers can offer you feedback from operators and distributors about your products.
- MARKETING: Leverage your sales agency to grow your business. Brokers pay attention to promotional programs and help your customers become more familiar with your products.
What’s a Food Broker?
Jared Nowicki of Lakeland Marketing says, that food broker is a term “often used interchangeably with the terms manufacturer representative, foodservice sales agency or FSAs.”
Food brokers work to expand a product’s presence in the market on behalf of their foodservice manufacturer clients. Non-food based clients (paper, packaging and container) that foodservice businesses need turn to brokers as well. Food brokers partner with manufacturers or producers that need help getting their product into wholesalers, restaurants, stadiums, hospitals, and schools.
Drive Sales (For Free)
We have an easy way to keep your products at the forefront of your brokers attention: The 1FS mobile app.
Use the 1FS app to share your GS1 product information with (only) your reps – in their designated markets – wherever and whenever they need it.
Sure, there’s product information on your website, and you email product spec sheets to reps… but it’s complicated for brokers to hunt around for the product information they need.
Already this year, the 1FS app has 1 million+ transactions. Thousands of foodservice brokers are using the app and loving its convenience.
The app is one place for brokers to:
- Access product information and associated promotion info
- Check on DOT stocking availability of an item
- Scan barcode for quick product lookup
- Send a follow up email – with up-to-date product spec sheets but also any associated files pertaining to products discussed
All of this functionality is available to the foodservice sales agencies you work with once you list on 1FS app.