How 4 Regional Specialty Food Retailers Optimize Online Sales
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams of Columbus, Ohio, is in a region of the country where it has some heavy competition—literally. Dairy farms abound, and aficionados of butterfat-laden desserts have plenty to choose from. But more than the long lines outside its retail store in the trendy Short North section of the state capital betray the gourmet confectioner's popularity. Jeni's is among many regional specialty food retailers that have learned how to sell food online.
Companies like Jeni's; Skyline Chili, headquartered in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield, Ohio; Tasty Baking Co. of Philadelphia, the makers of Tastykake snacks; and johnnycake masters Kenyon Corn Meal Co. of West Kingston, R.I., know a few important things about their Internet customers. Most of them loved the food when they lived near it, are now too far away to walk over and buy it, and most of them madly yearn to eat it.
"It's just something that I hear from consumers so often: 'It's something that I just crave,' " says Skyline Marketing Manager Sarah Lapham. Her company sells "Cincinnati-style chili," which generally consists of spaghetti topped with meat chili and piled high with grated cheddar cheese.
While some such companies may believe simple word-of-mouth and search engine perseverance will guide their customers to their branded Web sites, these regional specialty food retailers have gone the extra mile.
Tastykake.com employs local paid search, banner ads, billboards, e-mail blasts through partner organizations and internal customer lists, according to Tasty Baking Co. Marketing Director Jon Silvon.
Similarly, new customers warm to Skyline because loyal chili fans have placed the chili-maker high in organic search, and advertising partners place plenty of links to the site, Lapham says. Skyline then keeps online customers through e-mail blasts flush with special offers.
Jeni's co-owner, Jeni Bauer, says the monthly e-mail blasts always have new collections of ice creams, "so people look forward to getting them." It also helps that foodies favor Jeni's flavors, including the award-winning Sour Cherry Lambic Sorbet made with Lindemans Kriek Lambic beer from Brussels. Four years after starting its Web site, Jeni's expects to spend 2008 making 7,000 shipments of ice cream, including to a Malibu, Calif. restaurant that now sells the dessert.
Meanwhile for Kenyon, getting a sack of johnnycake mix into customers' hands is often a logistical matter, considering the corn meal the 17th-century mill grinds is heavy. "We have a lot of folks that come and tour. And a lot of times they don't want to carry a bunch of stuff home with them," says Paul Drumm III, Kenyon's president and owner. "Most of the hits that we get on our Web sites, they're actually returns. They're people that have us saved in their 'favorites.' "