Establishing some level of communication is essential to remain in business for any length of time. You need to have good feedback from the people or the companies that buy your product, as it’s the only way to know if you’re meeting their needs. If you are selling directly to consumers, you probably have a website or at least a Facebook page, and you may even have a list of email addresses so that you can send occasional emails or updates. If you are selling to restaurants, distributors, wholesalers or other processors, you likely spend a good portion of your day sending and responding to emails.
Maybe you even had face-to-face meetings, back when that was a thing that people did.
Even if you never set out into the business world to be a communicator, it’s part of what you do. In these times, communication means more than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended pretty much every aspect of modern life, so you need to be very clear to your customer base what has and what has not changed.
If you run a retail store, you have likely adopted new procedures to limit or even eliminate any interaction between your employees and your customers. You need to reach out to your customers with every tool at your disposal – email, phone, social media – to let them know about those changes. Be sure to let people know about disruptions or changes to your inventory as well. At the start of the shelter-in-place orders, many company struggled to keep up with the demand for ground beef and other meal staples. The demand may have tapered off within the last week or two, but now we may be facing a raw materials shortage as slaughterhouses start to close down due to illness. If shortages cause you to halt production of certain products or raise your prices, communicate those changes to your consumers and explain the causes.
Many companies have had to completely change their business models, particularly if the foodservice sector was a large part of their business. If your restaurant customers have shut down or scaled back their needs, you may be looking at direct sales to consumers. The challenge here is that your history of success in the foodservice world may not have translated to name recognition among people in your region. Even if you’ve been in business for dozens of years, people may see you as an unknown quantity. When you speak to your new customers, remember that you’re not dealing with trained chefs anymore. You’re dealing with people with varied levels of cooking experience, so make the products simple for them. Easy-to-prepare center-of-the-plate items, with helpful instructions, are what people may need right now.
I’ve seen numerous blog posts, videos, photos, Facebook updates and tweets from meat processors as they work to keep up with the changing business world and reach out to their consumers. Keep the news flowing; even a short post or video update is better than nothing. You can still maintain a sense of community during this social distancing era. Keep speaking; your customers are listening.