A Foodservice Operator’s Path to Purchase

An in-depth look at how foodservice operators gather information, assess products, and make purchasing decisions.

Winsight has unparalleled access to commercial and noncommercial foodservice operators across the country. To better serve our supplier customers, we surveyed these operators to find out how they navigate the information landscape, from becoming aware of a product, to researching its merits, all the way to making a purchasing decision.

Based on RB and FSD’s Fall 2021 survey of 461 operators, here’s what we found out:


When operators were asked “how do you become aware of a new product or service in the industry?” the top 4 answers were:

Other options to select from were social media, search engine, manufacturer website ad, eNewsletter ad, video and other.

For content-related purposes – social media and search engines both ranked higher than manufacturer’s content. This demonstrates that outside content is consistently used more than a manufacturer’s own content when gathering information on new products. Furthermore, two of the top four information sources involve person-to-person interaction, demonstrating the effectiveness of face-to-face meetings.

Recommendation: For introducing a new product to market, use digital run-of-site ads and LIVE/in-person demonstrations.

After, operators were asked “what actions do you take upon seeing a new product that you want to find out more about?”

- 52% Said Visit Manufacturer’s Website

- 51% Said Request a Sample

- 40% Said Contact Distributor Directly

These top 3 answers serve as a good reminder to make sure your landing pages have content related to your ad campaign so that operators can easily navigate to the information or contact they need to reach.


When operators were asked “which of the following do you use the most when researching a new product or service?” the top 4 answers were:

Other options to select from were industry magazines, industry media websites, peers, social media, videos, webinars and other.

While there was a slight difference in commercial and noncommercial foodservice operator’s top response with vendors at conferences/tradeshows/events ranking first for noncommercial and search engines ranking first for commercial, both types of operators rely on visiting manufacturers websites the second most and speaking directly with manufacturers or brokers the third most for research.

When asked “which of the following digital platforms do you rely on most for information?”

- 66% Said Articles on Media Industry Websites

- 50% Said Search Engines

Other options to select from were articles on manufacturer websites, eNewsletters, social media, podcasts, webinars, virtual meetings, videos and other.

Recommendation: When operators research a product, industry websites and search engines are the most prominent digital sources. To focus on improving research about your product or service, use SEO advertising as well as face-to-face meetings.

Bonus Recommendation!
Make your meetings with operators meaningful! The time you have in front of them is extremely limited, with most operators scheduling 0-1 meetings with suppliers per week. This also highlights the value of attending events to increase your chance of connecting with operators and getting that rare 1:1 time.

How many meetings with manufacturer suppliers does your operation schedule per week?


When operators were asked “What type of information sources do you use most often to make decisions on purchases?” the top 4 answers were:

Other options to select from were industry magazine, industry media website, industry eNewsletter, social media and other.

Three of the top four information sources for operators making purchasing decisions involves person-to-person interaction, along with manufacturer’s website ranking in the third most used source. While social media can be used for awareness, it ranked highest for the information sources operators used least often for making decisions on purchases.

Final Recommendations:
1. Focus on Search Engines – 50% of operators said they rely on search engines the most out of the digital tools for obtaining information. Make sure you have a robust targeting and re-targeting system that identifies and follows your target market across the internet.

2. Video and Podcasts Underutilized – Operators are not finding the informative content they need on these growing platforms. Suppliers should recognize this as a huge opportunity to place their research-based content in these formats, which are ranking in the bottom quartile for operator’s preferred research habits.

3. Face-to-Face Remains Strong – Throughout the path to purchase, face-to-face communication remains important. In-person events, direct communication and word-of-mouth ranked in the top 4 for awareness, research and purchasing. Have you scheduled your next in-person meeting?

Respondent Information