The pandemic has disrupted many industries. The B2B food export industry has experienced many ups and downs due to different supply chain shortages, global lockdowns, and other COVID-related issues.
Now that the world is settling into a “new normal,” many new opportunities are emerging in the B2B food industry. The rapid digitalization of B2B trade has made it easier for food wholesalers to reach buyers from around the world.
In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know about B2B food exporting through and after the pandemic. We will talk about some challenges and uncertainties the B2B food export industry faced over the past year before we dive into some business opportunities in the industry.
Then, we will discuss the benefits of selling on a B2B eCommerce platform and how Alibaba.com supports B2B food exporters.
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The COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into a spiral between the end of 2019 and 2020. Many people believed that this virus could be contained within a couple of months, but it lasted well over a year.
This pandemic has created significant uncertainties in the food industry, including:
These trends were quite unprecedented, but fortunately, things seem to be leveling out as the effects of the pandemic subside.
The uncertainties caused by the pandemic have created significant challenges in the wholesale food industry. Since the spread of COVID-19 caused shutdowns, both buyers and sellers experienced disruptions in their normal operations.
Here are a few of the most notable challenges that SMEs in the B2B food export industry faced as a result of the pandemic.
Many factories have shut down for different periods of time over the course of the pandemic. Some of these shutdowns were related to factory-wide COVID-19 outbreaks, and some were mandated by local authorities.
When factories are shut down, it makes it impossible for food production to carry on as normal, which contributes to shortages.
Since factories shut down and other operations related to food production halted, there have been food supply chain shortages throughout the pandemic. These supply chain shortages came on at different times over the course of the past year since different regions produce different types of food.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was unclear whether COVID-19 could be spread through food, so food safety precautions had to be seriously assessed.4 This also contributed to supply chain shortages for a short time period.
Fortunately, the pandemic did not cause any major food security issues that left people hungry on a global scale. Even though most parts of the world are getting back to normal, there are still some isolated supply chain shortages.
Restaurants shut down or shifted to takeout only in many parts of the world. These altered operations lasted for different amounts of time in different areas since most followed local mandates.
These shifts and shutdowns affected the demand for different food products and altered the way that consumers buy food.5 Although this directly affects the B2C market rather than the B2B market, it all comes back to food wholesalers.
With grocery stores becoming busier and restaurants taking a major hit, B2B food suppliers saw a shift in their clientele.6
There were some abnormalities with shipping throughout the pandemic. Both air freight and ocean freight encountered supply issues and other disruptions.
Ocean freight saw a spike in demand which caused issues since there was a finite supply of ships. There was a heightened demand on trade routes going from Asia to North America, and ships could not get back quickly enough to take their next load of cargo.
Airfreight, on the other hand, faced similar issues. There was not enough air cargo space to meet the shipping demands of global trade. Travel restrictions greatly reduced the number of commercial flights at different points throughout the pandemic. Since most air freight is carried on passenger planes, these government rules and interventions affected more than just the tourism industry.
The laws of supply and demand tell us that when the supply dips and the demand remains the same, prices go up. With scarcity and decreases in the supply of food products throughout the pandemic, prices have increased.7
Thanks to the hard work of scientists and medical professionals, major breakthroughs have been made for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and treating people who are affected by the virus. This is allowing the world to return to some sense of normal.
As restaurants open back up at normal capacity and the foodservice industry begins to flourish once again, new opportunities are presenting themselves for food wholesalers.
If you are interested in becoming a B2B food supplier, it is important to find food exports that can be easily produced in your region.
Almost all food comes from some sort of agriculture. Even if it is processed and manufactured, ingredients from plants and animals are almost always involved.
Since different parts of the world have unique environments, climates, and eco-systems, different regions produce and export foods that were farmed on their land.
Let’s take a look at some of the top countries and regions for different food exports.
Wine is among the most popular beverages in the world. It is a staple in many cuisines in different cultures. Winemaking requires an appropriate climate for both growing grapes and fermenting and aging the wine. The ideal winemaking climate is temperate, not too hot, and not too cold.
The top wine producers in the world are France, Italy, Spain, and the United States.8 In fact, these four countries make up about half of the wine production in the entire world.
Coffee is another one of the world’s most popular beverage products in many cuisines. Coffee plants require a very specific climate to grow. Moderate sunlight and an ample amount of water are a must, and these plants die if there is frost.
Parts of South America, North Africa, and Southeast Asia have the ideal climates for growing coffee. That’s why Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are the top coffee producers in the world.9
In the past, seafood production was limited to regions with access to large water sources. However, fish farming is now more prevalent than ever.
Asia is the largest seafood exporting region in the world in terms of both capture and aquaculture. The top countries for seafood production include China, Indonesia, India, and Vietnam. China leads the way by a significant margin, producing nearly four times the amount of Indonesia, which clocks in at number two in seafood production.10
Seafood is one of the top agricultural items in the Middle East. Middle Eastern countries, including UAE, Turkey, and Israel, are all known for their fish production.11
Produce, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is grown all around the world. Different regions have different specialties since each type of produce requires different growing conditions.
For example, Ecuador and other South American countries lead in banana exporting12, and the Netherlands and France lead in potato exporting.13
Some other top exporters of produce include:
If you are looking to start a B2B produce business, do some research to determine what grows best in your local environment.
Dairy is another staple in many cuisines, especially when it comes to cheese and cream. In order to produce dairy products, manufacturers need a reliable supplier for milk or they must raise their own dairy cows.
The United States is the top cow milk producer in the world.22 The United States is also the leading producer of cheese.23
Rice is a cash crop in many areas of the world. It requires a warm, humid climate with a well-thought-out irrigation system. With the right setup, rice is very easy to grow.
Asia is the biggest rice-growing region in the world. The top locations for producing rice include China, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.24
Raising beef cattle requires a lot of resources. Farmers need land, large water sources, and the appropriate cattle handling equipment. Beef cattle also need a significant amount of food. That said, it costs a lot to get into beef cattle farming.
The top beef producers in the world include the United States, Brazil, and the European Union (EU).25
Poultry is another global staple. Chickens are relatively easy to farm, and the poultry industry has been quite industrialized in the past few years. The United States currently leads in poultry production, with Brazil and China coming in as runners-up.26
Although the United States leads in chicken meat production, China leads in egg production.27
Legumes are important in many cuisines, as well. India is the number one legume producer, and the UK comes in as a close second.
Canada, India, and Australia lead in lentil production, and China and India produce the largest amount of green peas.28
Many wholesale food exporters are turning to B2B eCommerce platforms, such as Alibaba.com, to take their businesses to the next level.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 reasons for selling food on a B2B eCommerce platform.
Over the past year, there has been a major push towards digitalization in B2B trade. Since many in-person business operations were halted, online trade became the norm. B2C eCommerce marketplaces were already very popular, so the digitalization of the B2C sector was a natural progression.
Not only does digitalization make things more convenient for sellers, but retailers also prefer digital buying. 29 Digitalization helps streamline the experience for all parties involved.
When you create a storefront on a B2B eCommerce platform, you can reach a much larger audience. Alibaba.com, for example, has over 17 million buyers from over 190 countries around the world who are looking to source items for their businesses.
Another perk of selling your food products on an online B2B marketplace is that it makes it easier to connect with warm leads.
Buyers come to these platforms with the intent to buy. They seek out what you offer. Selling to these warm leads is much easier than selling to cold leads that you’ve prospected. When you leverage a B2B eCommerce marketplace, business comes to you.
Many B2B eCommerce platforms are equipped with tools for automation. These are meant to help food wholesalers save time and redirect their resources to more important tasks.
Alibaba.com, for example, offers tools for automatic product listing. Some other popular automation tools take care of advertising, lead generation, translation, and more.
While all of these tasks are important, the more you can delegate to an automated system, the better.
The most innovative B2B eCommerce platforms are equipped with customer relationship management tools. These tools allow you to communicate directly with your clients and keep track of who has purchased and who has not.
These powerful customer management tools help food sellers assess the status of different leads to let you know which ones you need to continue to nurture. They also give you insights into your customers’ backgrounds.
When you choose a B2B eCommerce marketplace, make sure that your platform allows you to own your client relationships. Direct access to your client's contact information is also very important because you want to be able to contact them outside of the platform if the need arises.
Most B2B eCommerce platforms are equipped with an internal search engine. When you properly optimize your product listings with the appropriate keywords, your ideal customers will be able to find you.
Search engine optimization (SEO) and paid ads are two approaches you can take to maximize your discoverability on your chosen eCommerce marketplace. Running ads and optimizing your product listings to rank high on the platform’s search result pages will bring more traffic to your digital storefront and product offerings.
Exporting comes with many challenges. Language barriers and varying international trade laws pose issues. Additionally, tapping into a new market can be a bit difficult since the new audience may not be familiar with your brand.
However, the support of a B2B eCommerce platform will equip you with the tools you need to overcome these challenges and help you navigate exporting like a pro.
With the help of powerful B2B trade tools, it is easy to test out different markets without expending a lot of resources. You can make your products available in different regions and tailor your product listings to resonate with new audiences without much effort at all.
Brand awareness is very important for most businesses. One of the best ways to increase your brand awareness is by improving and expanding your online presence. Luckily, B2B eCommerce marketplaces are designed to do just that.
When you create a digital storefront on most eCommerce platforms, you can incorporate your brand’s personal touch. When you add your logo and other information about your business, it brings it to life and gives buyers more to go off of as they compare potential suppliers.
Of course, listing your food products on an eCommerce platform is simply one way to improve your online presence. This approach works best when paired with an independent website. Staying active on other social media platforms, especially LinkedIn is also great reinforcement.
As a wholesaler, you deal with large quantities of products. When it comes to food wholesaling in particular, you may also have to deal with perishable items. If you’re selling fresh produce, for example, you have to deal with relatively short shelf lives.
Many B2B eCommerce platforms are equipped with demand forecasting tools. This helps you to make major decisions for your business.
Demand forecasting tools were especially important throughout the pandemic when there was so much uncertainty. It is nice to have guidance from experts and data that would be hard to obtain on your own.
Growing your wholesale food business may seem overwhelming. Luckily, many B2B eCommerce platforms provide personalized support to help you along the way. This could come in the form of a dedicated account representative, or it could come in the form of learning materials. The level of support will vary by platform.
In addition to personalized support from online consultants, Alibaba.com offers unlimited access to webinar replays, a learning center, a fully loaded business blog, industry reports, and eCommerce playbooks.
With this sort of support on your side, it makes it easier to navigate your journey through the B2B food and beverage industry.
Another great aspect of bringing your wholesale food business to a B2B eCommerce marketplace is that a platform of this nature can support you as you scale.
The culmination of the features that we discussed above makes a B2B eCommerce platform the ideal tool for scaling your wholesale food business since the keys to automation are automation, consistent lead generation, discoverability, brand awareness, and relationship management.
Alibaba.com offers a wide variety of features that are very valuable for food wholesalers. These tools are geared towards helping sellers reach new buyers both locally and around the globe.
Here are a few ways that Alibaba.com supports B2B food exporting.
As we discussed, increasing brand awareness is one of the most valuable benefits of using a B2B eCommerce platform. With Alibaba.com, you can totally customize your brand’s digital storefront with the help of API and integrations.
Closing wholesale food deals may require a bit of back and forth. Most wholesale food orders are time-sensitive, so it’s important that all parties are on the same page.
Alibaba.com offers innovative communication and relationship management tools, so you can stay on top of all of your leads and facilitate effective communication.
Every transaction carried out on Alibaba.com is backed by our Trade Assurance program. This protects both buyers and sellers to eliminate scamming and other suspicious behavior.
Alibaba.com’s Trade Assurance program ensures that every buyer receives the items that they purchased within the time frame specified when the order was placed. This program also ensures that the quality of the product matches what it was advertised as.
As for buyers, they can rest assured that every transaction that takes place through the platform is legitimate. Alibaba.com accepts dozens of payment methods, so you are sure to find one that works for both you and your buyers.
Alibaba.com is a great tool for B2B food sellers who are looking to expand their operations into other countries.
Some of our top tools for exporting include auto-translation and automatic currency conversion. These help to overcome language barriers and currency confusion, which are two major hurdles that exporters face.
Alibaba.com supports smart product posting. This allows you to automatically import product listings from other platforms or databases.
Another similar feature is dynamic pricing. This allows you to set different prices for different customers, which puts more power in your hands as a seller. The flexibility of dynamic pricing truly allows you to optimize each sale.
In addition to the features we discussed above, Alibaba.com’s large buyer base is very beneficial to food wholesalers. As we mentioned before, Alibaba.com has over 17 million active buyers from around the world. Our platform sees about 347,249 product inquiries each day.
With this large pool of buyers, it is easy to find plenty of buyers that fall into your target audience, which will help keep a steady stream of leads.
There are many opportunities for those in the food export business, especially for wholesalers who leverage the resources of a B2B eCommerce platform. We expect that the situations in many industries will improve in the coming months, and the food industry will continue to overcome the impact of COVID-19.
Alibaba.com is a great tool for B2B food sellers who are looking to take their businesses to the next level. Our platform is equipped with the tools that you need to connect with high-paying customers, both near and far.
Sign up for an Alibaba.com account today, and choose “Seller” as your trade roll. Once your account is set up, you can list your products and customize your storefront.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to start selling.