How Foodservice Distributors Can Thrive in the Age of Grocery Delivery

With the emergence of grocery delivery, distributors need to find new ways to work with restaurants

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With the emergence of quick, on-demand grocery delivery services, restaurant food distributors could face the same slow death by the disruption that other services like brick-and-mortar retailers and taxi companies also fight against.

It doesn’t help that the food supplier market has long been a crowded space, providing too many options for restaurants. Now, with the introduction of websites and apps that offer online order placement and delivery straight to a restaurant’s doorstep, foodservice distributors are at risk of becoming obsolete.

So, if food distributors want to compete with the Instacarts and Peapods of the world, they’ll need to embrace flexibility and adopt innovation.

Improving the efficiency of grocery delivery

In order for food distributors to start improving their delivery efficiency, they need to understand how restaurants prefer to submit and receive orders. Order platforms should offer a streamlined process, including easy placement and quick delivery. 

When it comes to speeding up the delivery process, many food distributors overlook vehicle size. Sending a large truck to a busy urban environment could mean limited access to the restaurant itself, slowing down the entire process as the driver struggles to find parking. By relying on smaller, more agile vehicles, delivery times decrease dramatically while also operating at a lower cost-per-mile than larger vehicles.

Distributors should also ensure that deliveries are packed strategically to minimize driver re-handling. Grouping together multiple orders going to nearby locations allows the driver to handle several deliveries in one stop rather than each one individually, shortening the delivery time for each customer.

It’s also important that distributors take advantage of technology to increase delivery accuracy. For example, delivery drivers can scan each case at their end destinations, providing a more accurate delivery record than logging everything on paper. Scanners equipped with cameras can be particularly useful, as concerns about quality or damage can be quickly resolved by reviewing the scanned photos of the product. By incorporating technology into the delivery model, distributors can track and address issues promptly to keep customers happy.

Flexibility in meeting delivery needs

According to recent research from West Monroe Partners, many restaurants expressed the importance of being able to order small quantities of items as needed and have them delivered quickly and affordably. But because frequent, small-volume deliveries are often costly and inefficient for food distributors, many have established minimum order quantities.

Given the growing array of alternative food sourcing for restaurants, foodservice distributors must find a way to meet small-order demands while still controlling operating costs.

Our research also found that chain and franchise restaurants tend to prefer online ordering, but locally owned restaurants often favor ordering by phone in order to request specific details for smaller orders. Though many foodservice distributors may already allow customers to place orders over the phone, they should also consider setting up an online ordering system so that each restaurant can place orders through their preferred channel.

It’s also crucial to provide easy access to order status. According to our findings, restaurant operators often want to track orders at every step throughout the delivery process so they can request changes to the order as necessary and have an estimated time of arrival.

Though many large distributors already have mobile applications in place, they’ll also need to start preparing for conversational AI – such as chatbots and virtual assistants – to help restaurants manage their orders, review invoices, and check the status of their delivery.

Because delivery efficiency and flexibility both play a critical role in shaping restaurants’ loyalty to their food providers, it’s critical that distributors streamline their operations across all aspects of their business. By prioritizing customer experience when defining delivery efficiency and demand flexibility, distributors will find themselves well positioned for strong, long-term relationships with their restaurant partners – even in the age of grocery delivery.