Foodservice Operators call for Sales Reps

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Ruth Cousins, Marketing Executive

Company sales representatives have been bringing product sales to life for years; it is arguably the oldest and most organic way of interacting with customers. However, an extremely high amount of foodservice operators receive no visits from any of the major manufacturers present in the UK.

Firstly it is important to identify what makes a ‘good’ sales rep in the eyes of foodservice operators. Companies that are regarded as the best for their sales reps are thought to be so because they offer great promotions/prices, the operator has a strong relationship with the rep and because they assist with merchandising solutions.

Because sales reps are visiting so infrequently or not at all, foodservice operators are unsure about what tools they can actually offer them. We asked operators what other kinds of information they would like to receive from a manufacturer sales rep (excluding the categories above) and around one third of café, hotel and restaurant owners answered ‘don’t know’.

With a lack of interaction comes an absence of confidence in suppliers’ abilities to help foodservice operators grow sales. The lowest ratings of confidence in sales reps comes from café and hotel operators. Ironically, these foodservice outlets are the least likely to say ‘I wouldn’t want a sales rep to visit my outlet’ over pubs, bars and restaurants.

Don’t be fooled, foodservice operators DO want information from suppliers! 49% said they believe best sellers info would help grow their business over the next 12 months. Financial advice, merchandising solutions & recommendations, how to grow category sales and consumer & shopper trends are all perceived by foodservice operators to be helpful to their business growth. It is therefore these elements that should be focussed on when sales reps are trying to engage, build trust and create a sense of impartiality.

The relationship between sales rep and foodservice operator is certianly not one to be dismissed. Foodservice operators regard sales reps as more influential than wholesaler websites, trade magazines and TV/Radio adverts amongst other methods of influence. Louise Howarth, Insight Manager at him! commented on the recent findings "there’s a clear opportunity that lies in investing in foodservice-dedicated sales reps. It’s an area of influence which is relatively untapped at the moment – and one in a market with huge potential."

Perhaps unsurprisingly during the online era, the most popular method of supplier communication amongst operators is e-mail with 45% preferring it over phone calls, direct mail and sales reps. But could this be a chicken and the egg situation? There are so few sales reps on the field and those that are don't deliver on what foodservice operators need that they don't see the value in them. It’s time to take it back to basics and get people out there and talking to their customers face to face! 

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