It’s no secret that social media marketing is fueling a new era in selling for companies of all sizes, and it’s especially true for small food and beverage makers that in the past might have spent years working just to expand locally before dreaming of anything bigger.

Early last month, the new product hall of the Summer Fancy Food Show was packed with small players that were making a name for their products and their brands more quickly than ever before.

“It’s a little bit obvious, but it helps us engage with our fans,” said Kelsey Hopping, marketing director at Cisse Trading Company. The New York-based company sells Fair Trade certified, non-GMO hot chocolate and baking mixes, and has been ramping up its use of social media marketing for the past few years.

In addition to building relationships with fans of the brand, Cisse’s pages and boards on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are increasingly becoming effective sales-building tools that give the small business the chance to reach a worldwide audience, she said. (read more…)

If you followed this summer’s public debate surrounding ride sharing, specifically the car service Uber, you might have heard the term “surge pricing.” The term incensed high-ranking government officials, but surge pricing illustrates the most basic of economic concepts: When demand is high, charge more.

Airlines and hotels have been surge pricing for years. But other than a “market price” for fresh fish or other rare commodities, the restaurant industry has largely stayed away. All this could soon change as mobile ordering gains momentum. Uber raises pricing on the fly based on real-time data gathered via mobile devices, the primary source for ride requests. Digital ordering for restaurants allows a similar opportunity by enabling fluid pricing. If, for example, a concert lets out at Madison Square Garden, Uber might charge higher rates to encourage drivers to come to the area. The local burger shop might also experience a flood of mobile orders. (read more…)

Great recessions…challenged consumers…slow job growth… polar vortex…all have slowed but not stopped a 30+ year march of U.S. consumers spending more on food away from home than at home. With a slow but improving economy, a transformative event in foodservice distribution and myriad competing consumer trends, L.E.K. conducted a survey of operators to obtain their perspectives on growth, changes to their menus and thoughts on the Sysco / US Foods merger.

The results from our 2014 survey of 250 foodservice operators and decision makers suggest a growing optimism. After several years of relatively modest growth, nearly 75% of senior foodservice decision-makers believe business will be better over the next three years than it was during the past three.

They also believe that healthier eating is here to stay. Specifically, farm-to-fork matters. A growing demand for health foods, locally-sourced items, cleaner ingredients, value products and gluten-free foods has caused many restaurants to change their menus to keep up with consumers. (read more…)

Last winter’s blizzards and arctic blasts started becoming a distant memory the minute restaurants around the country set up the patio tables and opened the rooftop decks for the season. Restaurants with outdoor dining spaces in many markets have gone from being a nice perk to a must-have, especially in places where the out-of-doors is a major draw.

“In Colorado, specifically in Denver, we get 300 days of sunshine a year,” said Denver-based restaurant consultant John Imbergamo. “Outdoor patios are a way of life with consumers across the dining spectrum from fast casual to fine dining.”

In addition to fine weather, scenery can also be a big reason for restaurants to add outdoor seating, as evidenced by Gayot.com’s recent list of Top 10 outdoor dining restaurants, which includes waterfront restaurants Legal Harborside in Boston and Red Fish Grill in Coral Gables, Fla.

But even in areas that don’t boast nearly year-round sunshine or waves crashing below, seasonal outdoor dining can be a draw. (read more…)

Supermarkets have more competition than ever from convenience stores, dollar stores, big box discounters and a growing number of online retailers, but they’ve also got some advantages in the form of customer loyalty programs full of data that can be mined in ways that keep shoppers coming back.

Grocery stores have been collecting data through loyalty programs for more than two decades, and those that use the information they gather to improve the shopping experience stand to boost same-store sales by 5% to 10%, according to a study done a few years ago by business analytics and intelligence provider SAS.

Supermarket CIOs are moving quickly to adopt big data tools — 64% were using big data last year, up from 20% the year before, according to a study by SwiftIQ. Strengthening shopper engagement and creating personalized promotions were seen as the top avenues for using big data to create value, the report said. (read more…)