Grocery manufacturers are struggling to adapt to the online world and need to invest in smarter packaging, presentation and supply chains to reap the long term benefits.
E-commerce accounts for just 3.7% of sales for fast-moving items like food, drinks and personal care products, market researcher Kantar Worldpanel says, forecasting a rise to 5% by 2016 as supermarkets develop their websites and online only retailers like Amazon and Ocado take them on.
Greater e-commerce could save money with more targeted marketing, including via social media, and lower product development costs, but industry insiders say manufacturers are put off innovation by the so-far small volumes of goods sold over the internet.
At a recent meeting of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in Paris, Amazon vice-president of consumables Doug Herrington berated them over the presentation of their goods, saying his firm had to photograph items to show their scale.
“This is a space you should have been a leader in and instead I find we have to innovate on your behalf,” he said, noting items often arrived leaking or in unattractive bubble wrap. “The first moment of truth for the customer is not what's on the site, it's what arrives at their home.”
Most food makers remain “seriously unprepared for online retailing,” said Rabobank analyst John David Roeg saying they would have to expand their product assortments, since online shoppers are more likely to use search terms like “organic yogurt” or “gluten-free bread”.
Iglo Group, which hopes its Birds Eye frozen foods will generate 25% of sales online by 2017 from 10% now, said it was streamlining product names and information alongside testing promotions encouraging bulk purchases.
“If you have the wrong words at the beginning, someone who is accessing through a mobile (phone) might just see 'frozen pea' and have no idea what size pack it is, if it's peas and sweet corn, peas and carrots or just peas,” general marketing manager Cheryl Calverley said.
“It's a really new market though, so everyone's trying new things,” she told Reuters.
Some manufacturers are toying with their own ecommerce sites but only in niche areas, with firms like L'Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble selling small amounts of cosmetics, coffee, chocolate and shampoo directly.
Nestle's Nespresso coffee brand is unusual in that it gets 60% of its sales from its own websites, but the company said the plan was not to bypass retailers.
The world's largest food maker, which gets about 3