CHICAGO — When Technomic research consultants asked their customers about their experiences using foodservice manufacturers' web sites, their feedback was mixed.

If done well, a food manufacturer's web site can be shown to positively influence decisions on integrating specific products into restaurant menus. But top complaints among manufacturers' customers often include inadequate or hard-to-find information. Manufacturers' web sites are visited regularly by restaurant operators, distributor sales representatives and foodservice brokers, providing excellent opportunities to impact these customers' impressions of doing business with a particular supplier.

Among the pet peeves frequently mentioned:

  • Inadequate product information — "Suppliers can make life difficult if they don't provide complete nutritional information, ingredients, cooking instructions and other important product details."
  • Hard to find — "It can be extremely frustrating to know that a manufacturer carries a product that can't be found on their site, either due to poor navigation or search capabilities."
  • Lack of assistance — "Suppliers should make it easier to connect quickly with a sales associate or a customer service representative by providing complete contact information."

"Some suppliers really stood out as having intuitive, user-friendly sites, but respondents noted that others are really missing the mark," said Melissa Wilson, Technomic principal. "The bottom line is people are pressed for time and want a manufacturer's web site to make their job easier — and if it doesn’t, they are less likely to visit again.

"Given the cost associated with building a site, it's essential suppliers really understand how they can meet their customers' needs to get the best return on their web site investment," she added.

The findings are part of a comprehensive research project on Optimizing Your Website ROI, a study offered exclusively to foodservice suppliers. The research includes feedback gathered from restaurant operators, brokers and D.S.R.s through online focus groups, usage tracking diaries, in-depth interviews, and more.