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Trade Commissioner Service  > Export guides and statistics > E-commerce - Grow your business presence

Adopting e-commerce in the food and beverage industry

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce (also known as digital commerce) refers to the act of selling and buying via the Internet. Selling food and beverage products online is crowded and competitive. Using e-commerce lets you sell to other businesses, directly to consumers, or a combination of the two. E-commerce requires investment and resources to create and keep an online presence. Attracting new customers and selling to existing consumers in this environment is different from a physical space.

Why adopt e-commerce?

More food and beverages are sold through e-commerce than ever before. Canadian food and beverage companies can benefit from this channel to reach consumers and businesses interested in their products worldwide. In both Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) channels, buyers search and buy more online. Food and beverage firms can connect and talk directly with potential buyers by using:

  • e-marketplaces
  • social media platforms
  • Internet

Selling online can lead to improved margins and a long-term relationship with customers. E-commerce is a crowded market with buyers and sellers from across Canada and around the world.

Where do you start?

Understand your potential buyers and buyer traffic

E-commerce is exciting because there are so many possibilities to sell your products. Millions of consumers are online all the time and many are buying products. It is also a very crowded space with new websites and e-commerce offers added every day. To deliver the sales you want you need to research your consumer expectations and tailor your e-commerce offerings to them.

Find the right e-commerce channels

Your target market will decide the right e-commerce channel(s) to follow. The economic model is different for every sales and distribution channel. If you’re selling online in B2B channels you’ll have different expectations from buyers in the B2C channels. In both B2B and B2C, e-commerce good product descriptions with the right keywords for searches and clear, correct photos will help sell your products.

Set-up your website

The core of your online presence is your website. This is your opportunity to showcase your products, share insights to encourage people to buy and conduct online transactions. There are wide ranges of investments you can make in websites such as:

  • developing the site yourself with your own images
  • hiring a professional web designer who works with photographers
  • designers and copywriters

The best solution is one that supports your brand and your products, as you have defined them.

Select and set-up an e-commerce platform

Online consumers need a place to buy when they visit your website. You can construct your website with e-commerce capabilities with an integrated e-commerce platform you design or select as part of the platform. As you explore the options of e-commerce platforms, it is beneficial to have an idea of the business you want to develop. 

Fulfill and ship orders

You’ll need to select and ship the products your consumers order from your e-commerce platform website. This can be as simple as selecting one shelf stable product and shipping it, or as complex as selecting multiple refrigerated or frozen products that fit in different boxes. Design your solution for order fulfillment and shipping to deliver the most efficient solution. For most options of selling food and beverage online, this part of your business model needs to be effective and efficient.

Promote and market your products online

Selling food and beverage online is similar to other channels, in that consumers will make a decision to purchase your products based on a number of factors. As you market your products in this channel, there are some differences to consider. Consumers are making the decision to buy with access to different information such as price comparisons or consumer reviews. Online marketers are aware of the differences and dedicate resources to deliver the most effective marketing strategy.

Measure your results

One challenge when investing in advertising and promotion is to understand the return on your investment. With e-commerce and digital marketing, you have the ability to measure the results by using a number of metrics. There are many opportunities for analysis of results. You might have to prioritize your efforts to ensure you are not investing too much time in analysis.

Other factors to consider when using e-commerce to expand your business

Selling online provides the opportunity to sell into many markets, but does not change the regulatory and other requirements needed to export your products from Canada or be imported by another country. If you choose to ship your products to other countries, there could be regulations and requirements such as those for food and beverage labelling, ingredients or food safety. It is the responsibility of the product seller to ensure these are in place.

There can also be tax implications for exporting from Canada in selling into different countries. For example, the United States is the largest market where many of the shipping options are integrated. Regulations and taxes can change from state to state, so online sellers must review these before selling into these markets.

Additional resources

Get started

Find a trade commissioner or reach out to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Single Window contact for agri-food trade services.

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