(Forbes) — The Covid-19 pandemic has altered reality for consumers and businesses alike, creating new challenges and opportunities, while also accelerating a number of trends that were already in motion. This includes the strong growth of eCommerce, particularly for food and health products.
The impact of this on independent food businesses throughout the U.S. has been twofold, limiting foodservice and brick and mortar grocery sales opportunities, while at the same time increasing opportunities for online sales. However, many independent brands do not have the infrastructure in place to market and distribute their products via their own e-commerce store in an efficient and economical way.
- 45.3% of people were shopping more online in March 2021, up from 17.7% in March 2020
- 41.4% reported buying groceries online, the second largest shopping category, from March 2020 to March 2021
- 31.9% bought more health and wellness products online in March 2021 compared to March 2020
- 48.8% were avoiding restaurants in March 2021 compared to 12.8% in March 2020.
I recently spoke with Kory Zelickson, CEO of Vejii, a fast-growing online vegan marketplace, to learn more about these trends and how Vejii is filling the gap with online marketing and distribution.
Gary Drenik: Can you tell Forbes readers a little more about what Vejii does?
Kory Zelickson: Vejii provides a targeted, affordable, easy-to-use eCommerce marketplace and sales channel for vegan brands that distributes throughout the U.S. We offer food, sports nutrition, personal care, vitamins, supplements, wine, pet supplies, and items for youth and children. In just the short period of time since our launch in late November of 2020, we have added more than 3,000 products to our site and are working directly with more than 70 brands that are looking to onboard to our marketplace.
We used data and customer feedback to identify over 200 high demand products to launch Vejii express in January of 2021, a service committed to shipping our most popular items out to customers in two days or less, giving people the comfort of knowing they will quickly get their products delivered right to their door.
Vejii supports cruelty-free products and provides a place where anyone can explore the vegan (or flexitarian) lifestyle by incorporating more plant-based products into their diets. We design our logistics carefully to limit our carbon footprint and use eco-friendly packaging.
Drenik: You launched your business during the pandemic at a time when small and independent businesses have been hit hardest. Can you describe Vejii’s working relationship with small businesses on your platform?
Zelickson: Vejii is committed to supporting the growing number of small businesses that have developed great vegan products. Too many small businesses have suffered in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we can give small companies the national exposure and distribution to drive rapid growth. We offer reduced fees for vendors with less than $1 million and $2.5 million in revenue. We also offer access to robust sales data to help vendors make better decisions. Vendor accounts are settled on a weekly basis to help those vendors better manage their cash flow.
It’s quick and easy for new brands to get onboarded to the platform through a simple vendor dashboard. The vendor maintains control of pricing, discounts, promotions, and subscriptions via our custom-built API.
We can accommodate a variety of logistical needs from brands if they need consignment, fulfillment, or a different structure based on what will make them successful.
I’m proud that every week we field dozens of inquiries from brands interested in joining the Vejii platform. We do our due diligence to make sure they are the right fit for Vejii’s customers and also that the brands will add value to and be successful on the platform.
Drenik: Following up on that, how does digital data influence your business decision making as it relates to adding vendors and advertising?
Zelickson: Vejii is constantly evaluating user behavior, ad performance and conversion rates. We identify friction points on our website and work to continuously improve the user experience. We use artificial intelligence for product recommendations and track the rate of return for orders. This is beneficial for customers and helps them to quickly find the right products.
This data also makes it possible to help small businesses with brand marketing campaigns: Vejii can offer digital exposure packages based on highly granular consumer feedback data, enabling companies to use their marketing dollars more efficiently.
According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey:
- 44.7% of adults consume plant-based meats, with 59.9% of millennials and just under half of Gen Z and Gen X adults doing so
- Gen Z adults reported eating less meat, dairy, and egg products compared to other generations analyzed
Drenik: The online grocery market has been growing due to increased demand, what distinguishes Vejii from other vegan retailers online?
Zelickson: There are definitely some vegan retailers dependent on a more conventional business model. Vejii takes our digital presence seriously and both vendors and consumers will notice that commitment on our site. Our technology combined with a great user experience, expansive selection and reliable delivery really helps Vejii stand apart.
Vejii has also differentiated itself by building a more inclusive platform for consumers. We welcome anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter if you use 100 percent vegan everything or if you are just looking for one type of vegan product. We are equally supportive and appealing to all types of consumers.
The only purity test on our site is that everything has to be vegan, but we don’t just cater to vegans. Vejii’s goal is to mainstream vegan and plant-based products while promoting the benefits of both. We have rewards programs offered to our regular shoppers to help promote and embed brand loyalty but are thrilled if you’re just browsing and buying one item one time.
Drenik: What’s next for Vejii?
Zelickson: We have plans for rapid expansion in the works, including growing our footprint into Canada and then to Europe. We will continue to work to reduce our carbon footprint while providing our customers with a great shopping experience.
Further down the road, we plan to pursue business-to-business opportunities to expand beyond our business-to-customer focus.
Drenik: Kory, thanks for your unique insights on the online grocery trend and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on small and independent businesses. We will continue to monitor consumer preferences to see if the shift towards online grocery and wellness shopping is a permanent change.
This article was originally published by Forbes