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Navigating the buyer’s journey for ingredient and equipment purchasers

Buyer's Journey: Every Customer's Journey is Unique
Source: Sosland Publishing


The buyer’s journey is full of twists and turns. Without a deep understanding of ingredient and equipment purchasers’ preferences and behaviors, suppliers can miss out on everything from qualified leads to lucrative sales.

To shed light on how buyers navigate their purchasing decisions, we spoke with Marjorie Hellmer, president of Cypress Research, about two recent studies Cypress Research conducted on behalf of Food Business News and Baking & Snack.  

The 2023 Food Ingredient Buyer’s Journey study by Food Business News surveyed more than 200 professionals responsible for ingredient purchasing decisions, while Baking & Snack‘s 2021 Baking Equipment Buyer’s Journey study surveyed 135 wholesale bakery professionals involved in equipment procurement.

This research provides key insights for ingredient and wholesale baking equipment businesses looking to fine-tune their marketing strategies and establish enduring relationships with decision-makers.

Sosland Publishing: A singular buyer making a purchasing decision has become a rarity in the food and beverage industry. Can you explain the importance of targeting buying groups?

Marjorie Hellmer: When talking about the ingredient or equipment buyer’s journey, we’re not talking about a single professional at a company. We’re referring to a buying group, and the journey a key group of professionals is taking throughout the buying process.

For example, let’s look at ingredient buyers in the food industry. Our analysis has shown that the core buying group that drives research, solicits feedback, and recommends vendors typically includes decision-makers from operations, purchasing, R&D and oftentimes sales, marketing and sometimes the C-suite.

Right here, I’ve listed a minimum of six professionals within one company or even one facility—each with their own filters for the kind of content they’re looking for. These complex buying groups are all keeping their eyes on different types of information to help inform their choices depending on where they are in the buying process.

When an ingredient or equipment purchaser begins gathering information and researching potential solutions and providers, what steps are they most likely to take during the awareness stage versus the active search and detailed information gathering stages?

Our research from the Food Ingredient Buyer’s Journey and Equipment Buyer’s Journey studies highlights the different information professionals will seek out at various stages.

When business leaders are simply “keeping up” on what is happening with ingredient or equipment supplier activity, of the 15 different potential sources of information, trade media dominates as the number one source professionals turn to. Sources such as print magazines, websites and newsletters keep the industry up to date with innovations and company activity.

Along with trade media, professionals also rely on trade shows to a great degree to help maintain their general awareness of innovations.

At this general awareness building stage, the two studies also demonstrate a few differences in the resources used by food processors versus wholesale baking professionals. 

To a lesser extent, but still importantly, a sizeable number of food processing professionals are turning to webinars and social media content to stay up to date on industry ingredient trends. Whereas a smaller but significant portion of baking executives leverage webinars, podcasts and videos to keep a steady pulse on equipment supplier activity.

Now, when they move to an active ingredient or supplier search and start gathering detailed information, search engines, supplier websites and trade shows move into the lead spots for preferred information sources among both food processing and wholesale baking professionals. This is, in part, because these tactics allow professionals to get up close and personal with a narrowed set of potential solutions and their providers.

How do information sources change when buyers are looking to expand business with a current ingredient or equipment supplier partner?

At this final stage of the buying process, both food processing and wholesale baking leaders tend to return to trade media sources like publications and websites. This is likely due to the broad reach of trade media and its ability to significantly increase brand and product awareness with a diverse set of industry professionals. 

What role does social media play in the buying journey, and what platforms are most effective for engaging buyers?

There is a growing audience using social media to stay current on ingredient and equipment innovations. Food Business News and Cypress Research have conducted this benchmarking research within the broader food processing industry since 2018, and trending shows an increasing role in its use by professionals.

Today, nearly 30% of food processors use social media for general ingredient supplier awareness building—up from 15% in 2018.

When food processing executives move into the active search stage or look to expand their business with a current ingredient supplier, about 20% of the industry turns to social media for information.

In addition, just over 20% of wholesale bakers use social media for general equipment supplier awareness. Sixteen percent use social media tools when getting detailed information about an equipment supplier and when looking for opportunities to expand their business with an existing supplier partner.

While social media is not a top ranked information source, these marketing strategies continue to grow in value and impact, especially on platforms such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Why is it important for a marketing strategy to include inbound and outbound tactics?

Both tactics are, of course, vitally important to the health of any business and they each carry their own strengths. Individual company-generated marketing tactics like blogs, newsletters, and webinars build an audience over time.

Outbound marketing vehicles like print and digital advertising and trade show promotions all reach a large audience quickly, effectively creating brand awareness and promoting a company’s products and services to that broad audience.

What “offline” marketing tactics still hold value during the buyer’s journey?

Two reliable information sources professionals turn to to help inform their ingredient and equipment purchasing decisions throughout the buying process are “offline.”

Trade shows and trade publication print advertising are both very effective ways to reach a wide audience and promote a company’s brand image, communicate company values, and ultimately increase sales for reasons mentioned earlier.

We know the buyer’s journey is always evolving, but what are the most disruptive trends impacting buyers today?

We are already seeing more use of native advertising in the food industry with ads that are so cohesive with surrounding content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer feels the ads belong there. These ads feel more authentic than traditional display advertising, and the content has the potential to genuinely connect more with the potential buyer. So, this tactic has disruptive potential.

I can also easily see the temptation, at some point, for the food industry to leverage direct mobile marketing strategies. It may be on the distant horizon but is likely inevitable in the business-to-business world.

To learn more about the buyer’s journey and to gain access to the studies referenced in this article, reach out to a Sosland Publishing media expert today.