By Michelle Cote, VP of Data & Insights, MyWebGrocer

Online grocery shopping isn’t a fad or a trend - it’s a reality. According to a Nielsen survey, one-fourth of consumers currently purchase groceries online and 55% say they are willing to do so in the future. Additionally, online grocery sales are expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 21%, which is almost seven times faster than in-store grocery sales. Given the ease of online shopping today across multiple devices and the trend towards same-day delivery, online grocery shopping will become a routine activity in years to come.

While it’s clear online grocery shopping is here to stay, many dairy suppliers might wonder where they fit into all of this. Is it worth it to advertise and sell dairy products through online channels? Do consumers actually buy perishable items online? Will online grocery dramatically impact dairy suppliers? In short, the answer is yes. An online grocery shopper will typically purchase the same number of perishable items online that he or she would at a physical grocery store.

In fact, MyWebGrocer data found that 93% of online grocery orders actually include dairy products, and online sales for the dairy category have increased year-over-year by 14.3%. The dairy category comprises 12% of MyWebGrocer e-commerce sales, with cheese experiencing the most growth (16.2% YoY). In short, there is a major opportunity for dairy providers to generate significant revenue through e-commerce sales.

Dairies need to be selling their products online

Simply put, dairy brands that are not already selling online need to get on board. Advertising and selling through any new channel presents opportunities for brands to reach new customers, but e-commerce holds the most potential for grocery because of its rapid growth. Selling online allows brands to reach shoppers they might have never connected with otherwise -- and for the grocery industry, the number of new consumers a brand can reach through online channels will simply continue to grow.

Not only are you able to reach a wider audience through online grocery channels, but you’re able to engage with shoppers in a more personalized way, which ultimately fosters loyalty. You can include more information about your products that you might not have been able to do when selling in stores, or you can offer special promotions for consumers who have purchased with your brand in the past or are purchasing complimentary items (i.e. a consumer buying a box of cereal might need milk).

For any industry, creating loyalty is the ultimate goal. Maybe the new customers you’ve reached will automatically put your products into their online shopping carts each week, or the next time they’re in a physical grocery store, they’ll seek out your brand. The opportunities here for dairy providers to not only generate brand awareness but also drive sales long term are substantial.

Strategies for selling dairy foods online

While many dairy brands may understand the benefits of selling and advertising online, the most effective way to execute this may not be as obvious.

First, it’s important that brands take the opportunity to tell a story and engage with consumers in a meaningful way. Simply selling or advertising your products online isn’t enough to foster brand loyalty among customers. You should be incorporating your products into editorial content like recipes or educational articles, creating a lifestyle for your brand that your consumers will want to embody. This can be done with ease through digital channels such as an editorial page on a grocer’s website or supplementary content like email marketing.

In addition, brands are able to learn more about their consumers through online channels than by selling solely in store. It’s easy to track which promotions your customers engage with most, how often the typical customer purchases your product and what other types of products they buy at the same time. Understanding your customer’s shopping habits and preferences makes it easier for you to alter your product and merchandising, as well as any future marketing techniques.

A significant opportunity exists for dairy brands to build customer loyalty and drive revenue through online channels. Online grocery shopping continues to grow at an exponential rate each year, and dairy items are a staple in almost every consumer’s diet. In other words, there are consumers out there willing to buy your product online, either from you or your competitors. As online grocery gains traction, now is the time for dairy brands to consider creating an online presence and developing the necessary content to drive conversions.