shopper with cart full of food for food ecommerce trends

6 Food Ecommerce Trends To Jump On For Growth In 2021

What are the food ecommerce trends on the horizon for 2021?

First, let’s remember that in the not-so-distant past the only way a food brand could survive was to get buy-in from the global grocery chains. 

Before the explosion of online grocery shopping, these brands had to focus on wholesale to succeed. 

In 2020 food ecommerce continued to grow, boosted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

But what should we expect to see from our favorite food brands in the coming year? 

And, even more importantly, how can you take advantage of these trends if you operate a food brand? 

Read on to find out. 

1. The Direct-to-Consumer Food Ecommerce Trend

Direct-to-consumer has become the favorite model for newer brands in spaces like fashion and beauty as malls and department stores are struggling to keep their doors open. 

The food industry has been slower to come around because of the reliance on the big global food chains and grocery stores, but now is the perfect time to start the shift to DTC. 

The last year has shown the true value of sending your customers to your owned channels – e.g. your website and email lists – to purchase your products. 

Don’t look for food brands to exclusively go online, but look for them to start crafting the ultimate omnichannel strategy to grow brand awareness, loyalty and improve customer experience. 

It’s a smart strategy to adopt as brands that have taken an omnichannel approach have fared better in the past, and are likely to continue to. 

Food companies that focus on increasing their sales straight from the customer, versus from their wholesale contracts, will provide more stability for their business.

From ordering online and picking up in-store to recurring delivery and beyond, food ecommerce will be meeting consumers where they want to be in 2021.

Even meat products that have traditionally only been available in-store will have increasing popularity in the DTC space after learning from companies like ButcherBox.

butcher box example for food ecommerce trends
ButcherBox was one of the first subscription companies built around a perishable food product.

2. Getting Ecommerce Sites Up to Speed

In 2021, having a basic ecommerce site is not going to cut it. 

When COIVD-19 struck and almost all products were forced to move online, consumers accepted that some brands’ online stores weren’t as user-friendly as they could be. Shoppers empathized with the food industry that was used to meeting its customers in person, typically on a shelf. 

Now that some time has passed, so has the consumer’s patience for poorly designed ecommerce site that are difficult to navigate and don’t build trust. 

The food industry needs to step up and make it easy for their customers to find what they need and purchase it online. 

They need to have pages dedicated to ingredient transparency, their process, and what makes their product the better choice. In other words, they need to have strong USP messaging.

Brands will need to understand the key UX design principles when setting up their ecommerce platforms. 

Food and beverage brands that add extra touches like personalized recommendations and opportunities for customer feedback will win extra points with the savvy online shopper and newcomer alike. 

kodiak cakes example for food ecommerce trends
Kodiak Cakes makes it easy to buy by letting users purchase online or find the product offline.

The food industry will need to focus on improving the shopping experience on their websites. They can do this by:

  • Providing multiple payment options
  • Offering guest checkout
  • Adding a one-step buy button
  • Displaying social media proof
  • Being mobile-friendly 
  • Improving page load speed

Companies moving into the food ecommerce space will need to make it easy to order from their website or risk losing customers to their competitors who do. 

3. Push To Expand Food Subscription Trends

The subscription model has been around for a few years, and many forecasted the trend to start fading…

But 2020 stopped that idea in its tracks. 

With in-store retailers not sure what’s next, it will be harder for new food and beverage startups to enter the wholesale market in the first place. 

The subscription model is a perfect place for those brands to start. 

Even with established brands, food ecommerce will require a push to generate monthly subscription revenue to replace a portion of the predictable wholesale revenue for the brands that begin to focus on their own channels. 

Amazon has already pioneered the way with their Subscribe & Save program that already includes several big-name brands like Dole, Planters, and Oreo.

subscription example for food ecommerce trends
Each of these brands is available for subscription through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option.

Food requires special considerations around where it is housed and how long it sits, adding extra complexity to the supply chain.

Month-to-month subscriptions allow brands to plan ahead for production.

While this business model comes with a few extra headaches, it’s worthwhile for brands as margins on subscriptions can be higher than with traditional wholesale. 

Start looking forward to your favorite food products being available on home delivery every month. But also look for meal kit subscriptions to drop off as more grocery products become available at lower costs. 

4. Online Marketing Rebirth

Food and beverage brands moving from primarily wholesale to direct-to-consumer will also have to adapt their marketing strategy. 

The account-based, one-to-one marketing route used to snag large grocery chains won’t work for consumers. 

Established brands that haven’t focused heavily on consumer marketing previously will need to go back to the drawing board and build out a new strategy. 

With the fate of ad platforms in constant flux, where should you expect food ecommerce to focus its marketing in 2021?

The New Content Marketing

Food products that focus on educating their customers about their products will create a better buying experience.

Food brands can build raving fans by creating ingredient guides, recipes, and other content around both their products and their brand culture. 

With the predicted continued explosion of video content, many brands should start planning a content strategy that translates well on screen. 

Micro-Influencer Marketing

Brands have become wise to the fact that for the same price you pay one macro-influencer you can use 100 micro-influencers. 

And micro-influencers tend to have better engagement.

Food ecommerce has a lot of untapped opportunities in this space.

pinchofyum screenshot for food ecommerce trends
Pinch of Yum pairs with Flora Plant U.S. for this recipe shared with their followers.

By pairing with food bloggers, chefs, or even your average parent trying to feed their kids with a small following, brands can reach new audiences and gain valuable brand assets they could use across their marketing. 

Brand Collaborations

Back in 2017, Walmart and Buzzfeed’s Tasty entered into a collaboration, and the result was magic. 

tasty example for food ecommerce trends
Walmart used Tasty to promote their products through unique content.

Tasty would demonstrate products available at Walmart in their recipes.

It was the best of both worlds as it showed you how to use the product IRL and told you where you could find them. 

Food brands will continue to build these types of collaborations with their products. 

Brands will pay creators to use sponsored products in their recipe blogs and videos to reach new audiences, and we’ll have endless inspiration. Win-win-win!

5. Collaborations To Solve Shipping and Delivery Logistics

Shipping costs are increasing. Delivery services keep popping up but digs deep into profits. What’s an ecommerce food brand to do?

Collaborate, of course.

Not only does it grow each brand’s audience, as you already read, but it can help them cut costs. 

foodora example for food ecommerce trends
Delivery services are convenient but are they worth the cost?

Partnering With the Giants

As you know, Amazon and Walmart are delivery giants with expansive delivery operations. Through Amazon Fresh, the ecommerce giant can already offer same-day delivery on food items.

Food brands can partner with them to improve their shipping logistics and upgrade their delivery services for their products. 

Look for any brands that haven’t already joined forces with them to do so in the coming year. 

Collaborating With Sister Brands

Companies with sister brands will also look to collaborate to offer packaged delivery services resulting in lower costs from less packaging and fewer deliveries. 

This isn’t just a strategy for large brands like Kraft though.

Smaller food companies can seek out complimentary products to take advantage of the trend as well. 

Refining Product Lines

Food companies will start to refine their ecommerce product offerings to only include items that are easier to ship. 

Some brands will offer a small selection of their best-selling food products online and keep the harder-to-deliver alternatives as an in-store-only option.

This will be especially true for heavy or frozen products. 

6. Global Food Ecommerce Is Green

Aiming at (and run by) consumer-conscious millennials, brands have been able to develop a USP around promoting environmentally friendly practices and products in their business. 

Those days are coming to an end, as the push for better practices is now at the forefront of everyone’s minds. 

Look for global food ecommerce to become greener in 2021 and beyond by focusing on the three biggest issues. 

Packaging

Packaging has come a long way.

Recycled, biodegradable, reusable and plastic-free options are readily available to companies. 

Look for these options to become even more robust as food ecommerce will shift to better packaging options for their products to do their part to reduce waste while increasing online sales. 

Environmentally Friendly Delivery

How can companies get more packages to consumers without hurting the environment?

This will be the biggest logistic chain question of the next decade. 

2021 will continue the push for improved delivery chains with a focus on sustainability. 

Sustainable Production

Delivery isn’t the only process that will become more sustainable. 

Food production is becoming more sustainable as well, with many of these food producers selling directly to their customers. 

Vertical farms growing starter vegetables and microgreens that sell at local markets.

Farmers investing in new technology and processes that reduce their carbon emissions to provide their products to major food retailers.

The improvements coming in production processes will have the largest impact on the industry long term.  

Final Thoughts 

Food and beverage brands that were early DTC adopters will have an edge going forward if the old school brands don’t pick up on these trends quickly. 

They have the advantage of already understanding ecommerce consumer behavior, user-friendly websites, and optimized production and delivery methods.

What other trends do you expect to see in food ecommerce in the coming year? Interested in B2B trends? Here are 6 Key B2B Ecommerce Trends For 2021 you should definitely check out! Have you wondered how the furniture industry is doing during these times? Here are 3 Furniture Ecommerce Trends To Know For 2021.


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