We are avid believers in natural, organic, sustainable and local foods, and we're helping move the conversation about food from just food-as-commodity to food as a triple-net bottom line transaction.
Not only do we have a passion, we have lots of real world experience in the conversation. The co-ops and natural foods vendors we've been working with have really helped us understand the business of natural foods, how people shop, what segments of customers there are, and how we can engage people in both making healthy choices and making smart choices for the world around us.
Deeper in the passion, Byte's president, Michael Diedrick, started his own natural, organic and sustainable restaurant called The National Cafe & Takeaway as a neighborhood improvement project in 2008. The National was an early Milwaukee adopter of the sustainable and local movement in Milwaukee, and sold the cafe after three years to a local chef, making the news in a few places. The cafe has helped make the neighborhood known as a both culinary and thriving. Michael had hands-on experience with both running the operations, he worked directly with the farmers and producers of the best food, made a neighborhood cafe that connected people, and also created a POS that connected directly to the website, kind of a new concept in 2008.
With a distinct real-world experience in selling natural foods, Byte has been part of the conversation that co-ops and natural foods stores across the country have been having with their customers, and bringing awareness about the quality and the issues of food production.
ASIDE: Clients include: Outpost Co-op, Good Harvest Market, New Leaf, Organic Market, Glorioso’s, CDS Consulting
The story of food
Sell food with a story is
The politics of food
To the uninitiated, it seems inconceivable that food and politics are intertwined. Co-ops and natural food stores across the country have always been part of the discussion that we're finally starting to see in more mainstream documentaries, magazine articles and books on how there are better ways to eat for both personal health and a better world.
Natural foods retailers are actively involved in the solutions to issues including:
- Food deserts - and how Outpost in Milwaukee invests in the community and opened a pop-up store in the middle of an urban food desert
- Independent farmers - and how North Coast Co-op in Arcata / Eureka meets with farmers every winter to make minimum orders
- Affordability - and how co-ops have the co-op basics programs to make many items in co-op groceries competitive
- Reusable bags - and how stores like New Leaf based in Santa Cruz have been way ahead of the curve (and laws) in helping their shoppers use reusable shopping bags
- Environmental practices - and how every natural food store is actively engaged in making food and food production less destructive to the earth
Since natural foods retailers are part of the solution, we have one of the best value propositions in the history of marketing: showing how awesome natural foods stores are entirely worth the money spent.
The corporatization of natural foods
We'd like to imagine natural foods is good in any form, but it's simply not true. The Wal-marts, Safeways, Trader Joes and Whole Foods of the world don't seen natural foods as a mission, they see it as profit motive. The consumer doesn't understand that the independent natural foods retailers are actively involved with making the farming and food production better for everyone, and Wal-mart is doing none of that, so it's our job to help tell that story.
Two way communication
Natural foods retailers are serious about learning from their customers, and helping each and every customer find their products, product alternatives, policies, and politics. Customers want to suggest products learn about why products are no longer available, and find product alternatives when it's off-season or when a product isn't available, People want to learn the store's positions on GMOs and on other issues of the day. And people want the same quality of customer service that's common in a natural food retailer.
Working with our natural food retailers as partners we've been helping to create a customer service system that ensures 100% response rates to all customers' issues that's still easy to manage and in line with the stores' missions. Better than that, it helps track issues by type over time, helps inform store policies and does some pretty specific tracking of things like new store locations requests.
Learning from the website
What do customers really want from a natural foods website?
- Specials - far and away the most important communication on a website or via e-news, people love specials, not just price specials, but what's fresh from the farmer.
- Careers - natural foods stores are some of the best employers in the nation, and the website is a great place to crow about the benefits.
- Hours and location(s) - why, of course! What's impressive is how so many natural foods stores hide it deep in the site.
- The Deli / Prepared Foods - for stores with prepared foods, keeping up the soups and specials on the site are a constant driver in one of the more high margin departments.
- Store offerings - people want to explore online even if they know the store, especially in the health and beauty and supplements.
- Events - natural foods' core customers are keen to learn, and keen to be part of the natural foods community and meet people like them.
- Resources and recipes - natural foods' core customers love to cook, and they love to learn about cooking and eating based on specific heathy or restrictive diets.
That's all in order of usage on our cross-country selection of natural foods clients over the last five years.
The red queen theory
Natural foods (and people in general) evolve constantly and rather quickly, and we're all very open to learning and evolving alongside our customers. Same goes here at Byte - we're certainly not done yet, we're all evolving how the internet can be really powerful, and how a website can communicate the greater good to your customers.
Got a suggestion for a better way to manage something in the CMS? Like us to learn more about a specific tool? Want us to research how the industry is dealing with a common issue? We're all ears, and ready to build a solution. We've learned running is the slowest pace there is just to keep up!
What's the most visited times of year for natural foods websites? Based on store traffic, we'd assume right before holidays, especially thanksgiving. Nope. It's just after new years and in spring!