The following is a guest post from Jennifer Fitting, the director of e-commerce for Tyson Foods.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "When you're finished changing, you're finished." These are wise words to live by in the business world. Companies that fail to innovate and bring new services or products to customers and consumers can be quickly overtaken by competitors who do. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity for companies to adapt, and to do so quickly, has become even more urgent, particularly in the food and beverage industry.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers by and large purchased food and grocery items in-store and in-person. But COVID-19 changed that and pushed fast-forward on consumers' use of e-commerce to buy food to put on their tables. According to a report published late last year by Mercatus, 43% of consumers shopped online for their groceries between March and August 2020 compared to just 24% in 2018. Similar to the industry, Tyson Foods experienced this growth in e-commerce as well, with sales up 89% October through December 2020 compared with last year.
Food manufacturers are stepping up to adapt to this "new normal." While leveraging technology that enables them to participate in the growth of e-commerce is essential, it should not end there. Manufacturers need to dig deeper into how people shop via e-commerce and utilize technologies that can improve the online shopping experience for consumers while adding value throughout the retail grocery supply chain.
Tyson Foods is taking this approach as we continue to grow our presence in e-commerce. As a protein supplier to the majority of grocery retailers across the U.S., Tyson Foods provides both consumer packaged goods and fresh meats for consumers to purchase. This is where the surge in online grocery shopping has presented a unique challenge.
Purchasing meats — specifically fresh meats — has typically been considered an "in-store" experience by consumers who want to get an up-close look at the meats they choose to buy. As a result, people are historically much less likely to purchase meat online. In fact, only 30% of meat shoppers say their primary method for purchasing meat after COVID-19 will be online, according to a January 2021 survey by Midan Marketing.
To address this challenge, Tyson Foods is working to create an online shopping experience for consumers that makes them feel more comfortable purchasing meats online. The general insights mined from the data will also help inform grocery retailers' growth strategy with their online fresh meats business.
In order to create an enhanced shopping experience, Tyson Foods has begun using proprietary artificial intelligence technology from Boston-based startup Vizit to optimize the presentation of its products on the "digital shelf." This technology helps Tyson gain a new understanding of the unique wants and needs of digital consumers and their visual shopping preferences. The software identifies and measures what specific components of an image or design — such as how the fresh meat is prepared and packaged, usage suggestions, or the quantity included in the package — will resonate most effectively with Tyson's core consumers. This information allows Tyson Foods to prioritize which product attributes need to be featured, and where, so that consumers can more confidently add the product to their digital shopping baskets.
With insights gained from this technology, Tyson Foods expects to soon begin implementing the results across our digital shelf. The data collected will enable us to compare digital content on an ongoing basis so we’re able to help consumers make a more confident selection when purchasing Tyson products online.
During these unprecedented times, smart companies are reevaluating how they can best deliver against evolving consumer needs. Tyson Foods believes with the right information, we can help both the shopper navigate the digital shelf and bring category leadership to our retail grocery partners as we all work towards creating the best shopping experience for all.