Whether it’s a weekly delivery of meal kits or a monthly curated coffee box, gourmet gift packages for friends or edible treats just for you, there are food and beverage subscriptions out there to suit a variety of lifestyles and taste buds.
Consumers across the globe are certainly hungry for food and beverage subscriptions – it’s the fastest growing vertical in the subscription market, with the highest monthly recurring revenue (MRR), average order value (AOV) and lifetime value (LTV).1
A thriving industry whose growth shows no signs of slowing down, it’s no wonder so many brands are fighting for a piece of the food and beverage subscription pie. But what does it take to create a successful online store in this vertical?
This article will explore 12 key ingredients of a successful food and beverage subscription website, with plenty of actionable tips and real-world examples based on Swanky’s extensive experience in this area. There are of course other things you’ll want to consider as you create and grow your food and beverage subscription store, but these are some of the most important elements to help you cook up an ecommerce masterpiece!
First though, let’s take a look at the current state of the food and beverage subscription market and the wider subscription economy.
Food and beverage subscription ecommerce
Let’s rewind to 2020, a year of monumental growth for subscription ecommerce. Unable to get their retail fix in-store, locked-down consumers headed online in their droves, seeking out reliable, recurring deliveries of key items direct to their doors. The global subscription ecommerce market was flooded with new customers as people’s shopping habits transformed.
This growth only continued in 2021 – albeit a more steady and consistent kind of growth – indicating a lasting shift towards recurring products and services across all verticals.
Recent analysis by Recharge showed that food and beverage subscription brands in particular saw a 51% increase in average monthly subscribers in 2021 compared to 2020, as well as a 77% growth in MRR, 15% boost to AOV, and 16% increase in LTV.
As we move forwards in 2022 (a year where the global subscription economy is set to reach $275bn!2), it’s safe to say that food and drink subscriptions are here to stay, having been embraced as a reliable part of consumers’ everyday lives.
Recipe for a successful food and beverage subscription website
#1 Clearly explain products and subscription plans
When it comes to a food and beverage subscription, you need to make it easy for users to understand exactly what they’re purchasing – after all, buying edible products online can feel like quite a gamble for many first-time shoppers, especially when they’re signing up for a repeat purchase. Gaining their trust through clarity and transparency is key.
Here are some things to keep in mind for building confidence in your products and increasing conversions:
- List all ingredients, ensuring to highlight allergens. Check out the screenshot below to see the visual and engaging way in which our client HelloFresh lists the ingredients in its meals.
- Display detailed nutritional information, including calories per serving.
- Provide recommended serving sizes.
- Include preparation and cooking instructions.
- Explain how food will be packaged and shipped.
- Support product descriptions with high-quality photographs (more on this in the next section).
- Experiment with things like unboxing or “cook-along” videos on your product pages. Videos can be very effective for engaging users and encouraging purchases, not to mention they’re a great form of shareable content.
As well as clearly detailing your products, you need to make sure that it’s clear how your subscription service works. Potential subscribers want to know exactly what they can expect before committing to a recurring delivery. Try to anticipate and provide answers to common questions, like these ones below:
- How often will a subscriber receive the product?
- What exactly will they receive? (Try using images to help customers understand what’s inside each package.)
- How do they edit, pause or cancel their subscription?
- Will the packaging fit through their letterbox?
- How can they return items if they don’t meet their expectations?
- When and how will they be charged?
Using icons like our client Union-Hand Roasted Coffee have done on their site is a simple yet engaging way to convey key details to prospective subscribers. You could also leverage an FAQ page or interactive video to walk users through how a subscription with your brand works.
#2 Use high-quality product and lifestyle photography
Next, you need to add a generous helping of high-quality imagery – an important element of any ecommerce website, but particularly crucial when it comes to selling food and beverage products online.
Your aim? Drool-worthy images that leave users craving what you have to offer. Well-executed product shots of the ingredients you sell, or the meals or drinks that can be created with these, will help capture attention, increase perceived value and compel action.
As well as product snaps, use lifestyle images that tell a story, inspire emotion and get potential subscribers to envision enjoying your products themselves.
Once you have a library of mouth-watering images (that are consistently styled, well-lit, and staged with props to add context), award them plenty of real estate across your subscription website.
Large, full-width photos on your homepage will help evoke the senses and leave users hungry for more.
Continue to satisfy consumers’ appetite for visuals across your product pages, with a gallery of images for each product that showcases multiple angles, signifies quantities and identifies ingredients.
Looking for some inspiration when it comes to ecommerce photography? Fast-growth Australian brand Whisky Loot have elevated their Shopify Plus subscription website with beautiful high-res imagery that will have whisky lovers eager to subscribe!
#3 Get personal with subscribers
Customers’ appetite for personalisation in ecommerce shows no signs of decreasing any time soon. Plus, when it comes to food and drink, we have very unique preferences that need to be catered for.
Personalisation of your subscription website begins with data. By getting to know your customers and capturing data about their tastes, dietary needs, budget, quantity requirements and more, you can provide a personalised shopping experience that will drive conversions, increase AOV and foster loyalty.
Personalised products and plans
How about using a quiz to build users’ detailed taste profiles and point them towards products they’ll enjoy most?
US wine subscription retailer Firstleaf presents users with a simple quiz to discover their preferences, including what colour of wine they like most, whether they prefer wines from particular countries, and how many bottles of wine they drink a week.
They also ask users to “like” or “dislike” a series of wines and foods, to further build their custom taste profile.
They end the quiz by asking for users’ contact details in exchange for the results – this is important for maintaining conversations and ultimately building long-term customer relationships.
Firstleaf leverages the zero-party data they’ve captured on taste and consumption levels to curate a personalised selection of wines to suit the user’s specific tastes, along with a tailored subscription plan.
Quiz answers can also be used to connect customers with relevant content from across your blog, adding further value to their experience with your brand.
It’s worth noting that it can take time to curate an on-site quiz like this, with careful consideration and testing required to ensure you’re asking the most effective questions and recommending the most relevant products. With this in mind, you’ll want to ensure your subscription offering is well established before implementing advanced website features like this.
Tailored on-site experience
As well as directing subscribers to the best products and plans for their needs, you want to provide a personalised on-site experience whenever they visit your online store.
As part of a recent meal kit subscription website project, Swanky created a bespoke app that enables a default meal setting relevant to customers’ sign-up preferences. This sort of tailored experience speaks directly to the increasing demand for personalisation taking hold within ecommerce.
We also designed and built three different navigation menus dependent on a user’s state: one for new customers, one for active subscribers, and one for customers who were once subscribed but have since cancelled. This ensures a relevant shopping experience is being delivered to everyone who arrives on the website, no matter what type of customer they are or what their needs look like.
#4 Cross-sell with recommended product pairings
Food and beverage D2C selling lends itself perfectly to the concept of cross-selling. Got a great side dish that would work well with the main meal in someone’s cart? Can you recommend a bottle of wine to complement someone’s cheese selection?
Seize the opportunity to recommend relevant complementary items and elevate the overall shopping experience for your customers. This tactic will also increase key ecommerce metrics like conversion rate and AOV. After all, when a shopper interacts with product recommendations, they’re 550% more likely to make a purchase and 369% more likely to purchase more!3,4
You can present suggested product pairings on your product pages, in the cart, in post-purchase email flows, and even in the customer portal, thanks to Recharge’s free Novum theme. The built-in cross-selling functionality allows merchants to showcase complementary products, with the option for customers to add an item as a one-time purchase to their next delivery, or to add it to their ongoing subscription.
#5 Allow for flexible self-management via a customer portal
A key ingredient for all subscription websites, not just those in the food and beverage vertical, is flexibility. Shoppers crave flexible self-management, with the ability to quickly and easily pause, skip, restart and edit their subscriptions based on their individual needs. If this seamless experience isn’t available to them, you risk them cancelling their subscription altogether.
“Although it might seem counterintuitive to let customers skip, pause, or delay a delivery, remember that consumable products don’t get used at a blanket rate, so it makes sense to allow customers the flexibility. This can help secure subscriber loyalty and advocacy, which is important for customer retention.”
Matt Abbott, Head of Growth at Swanky (Original source: Recharge)
Making it easy for customers to leave a subscription can actually encourage them to stick around. We like to know that cancellation is effortless, should it be needed – having this reassurance means consumers won’t feel trapped and are more confident in signing up to a recurring subscription.
Put flexibility at subscribers’ fingertips by creating an intuitive customer portal where they can manage their subscriptions directly. This will become a key touchpoint in your customer relationships, as Nichola Birch, Product Manager at Swanky, explains:
“It’s worth investing in your customer portal, as once subscribed this will be the main area the customer interacts with. It’s quite likely they will visit the front-end website only to log-in to their account! So make sure your messaging and UX is as good here as on your main site.”
An accessible, intuitive customer portal is a key tool in allowing you to increase subscriber satisfaction, build trust and improve retention, all whilst saving your team time and driving down support costs.
#6 Tap into the power of referrals
Referral marketing is a common strategy amongst food and beverage subscriptions brands, including big names in the industry like Mindful Chef, Gousto and Blue Apron. Food and beverage subscription is a particularly volatile vertical when it comes to long-term customer retention, so acquisition strategies like a referral program are crucial.
By tapping into your existing subscriber base and rewarding them for referring friends, you can simultaneously improve your acquisition efforts, whilst improving retention rates. Plus, referred customers spend around 200% more than other shoppers!5
This type of marketing tactic relies on having a great product, as well as great customer service – so you’ll need to make sure your subscription business is a well-oiled machine before implementing any sort of referral scheme.
You also need to make it as easy as possible for your customers to refer a friend, which means plenty of signposts on your website, a dedicated landing page with a simple referral form, and clear emails to both your existing customer and the person being referred.
Try to make the referral experience as enjoyable as possible too, as this will encourage multiple referrals.
Finally, Product Manager Nichola suggests carefully considering how you’ll reward both the person referring and the referred customer:
“Think about what an individual customer is monetarily worth to your business, or what you’re saving in acquisition costs, and use this to assess what type of reward is appropriate. Remember, with your loyal customers essentially doing your marketing for you, they’re saving you money in acquisition and bringing you warm leads.”
#7 Communicate with your customers
Communicating with your subscribers is imperative, no matter the vertical your brand is operating in. Not only do consumers want to be kept in the loop about their subscription and your products, they value connections on a deeper level.
An automated email journey is a great way to keep your subscribers up to date. This includes a confirmation email post-purchase, reminders of upcoming deliveries and notifications of any changes or delays. Timely and transparent communication is especially important around the holiday season when many people purchase subscriptions as gifts.
Going beyond notification emails, you can leverage what you know about your customers in your email marketing strategy to deliver targeted messaging unique to their needs, including discounts on their favourite items and recipes for dishes that match their preferences. This provides value beyond a customer’s initial purchase, keeps them engaged and strengthens their relationship with you as a brand – all important for maintaining higher levels of LTV.
SMS is another communication channel you might want to consider. Whilst its usage remains relatively low among subscription merchants, enabling this type of communication can increase customer LTV by up to 30%!
Texting your subscribers creates a direct channel of engagement, bringing flexibility, convenience and value right to customers’ fingertips. In turn, this can help nurture long-term subscriber relationships and reduce churn.
Ecommerce marketing platforms like Klaviyo and Yotpo offer advanced SMS marketing tools to help merchants craft meaningful subscription experiences for their mobile shoppers (and Swanky is a certified provider of both solutions!).
#8 Be on hand to help
According to Recharge, customer support ecommerce integrations are the most widely-used integrations amongst food and beverage subscription retailers. Indeed, customer service is key to long-term success in subscription ecommerce, as you’re relying on repeat business from satisfied customers.
Wherever a user is in their journey with your brand, whether they’re interacting with a chatbot or a real-life human, you want to make sure that every interaction they have with your customer service team is positive. Support should be provided in a timely manner, wherever your customers need assistance.
When it comes to customer support for a subscription website, subscribers will often be looking for help updating their address, payment information or subscription cadence. Enabling them to do this quickly, across channels, and with ease is important for securing customer loyalty and preventing churn.
For example, when users visit the Help Centre on HelloFresh’s online subscription store, they’re presented with a pop-up to help them find the answers to their questions as quickly as possible:
For more advice around providing five-star ecommerce customer service and why it’s so important, check out this blog post.
#9 Offer incentives to reduce churn
According to Swanky’s Product Manager, Nichola Birch, one of the most important ingredients of a subscription website (not limited to the food and beverage vertical) is the use of custom incentives to encourage customers to remain subscribed.
“The Recharge platform has a built-in Customer Retention Strategy feature that allows retailers to apply incentives based on customers’ cancellation reasons.
Say a customer wants to cancel their subscription because they already have more of a product than they need – you can automatically present them with the options to pause or skip. Or, if they want to cancel because it’s too expensive, you can present a discount right there and then to encourage them to stick around.
This can be a great way of reducing churn and transforming customer lifetime value.”
It’s simple to enable and manage this feature in your Recharge Dashboard – check out this guide for details.
#10 Serve up valuable content that engages and inspires
Cook up an effective content marketing strategy for your food and beverage subscription brand, focusing on providing value to your customers at every stage of the funnel. This will help position your brand as a leader in the industry, attract new prospects and nurture lasting connections with existing subscribers.
There are lots of ways you can provide useful, unique content to customers as a brand in this particular space:
- Explore the origins of your ingredients or products and any behind-the-scenes production processes in a blog series. With consumers increasingly calling for transparency around where food and drinks come from, this would help to establish confidence in your brand.6
- Satisfy people’s search for meal inspiration by sharing recipes and useful how-to guides on your website, just like Pasta Evangelists in the example below. Take advantage of seasonal and industry trends to serve up content that users will be looking for. Featuring educational content like this helps build trust and add value to your relationships with customers.
- Create content that focuses on the wider interests of your customers, whether that be healthy living, travel or sustainability, for example.
- Head to YouTube, where a huge 86% of millennials are seeking food and beverage related tips.7 Take advantage of this highly engaged audience and serve them vlogs, culinary tutorials and unboxing videos.
#11 Build trust and create FOMO using social proof
Potential subscribers don’t just want to take your word for it that your subscription offering is the best thing since sliced bread. They want to see that like-minded individuals are enjoying your products on repeat and receiving fantastic service overall.
This is where social poof comes in. By leveraging tactics such as ratings, reviews, scarcity messaging and user-generated content (UGC) across your subscription website, you can build confidence in your products and boost conversions.
Elevate your strategy by showcasing visual social proof that captures attention and triggers FOMO.
A couple of ideas to get you started include collecting photos and videos from your customers and celebrating their culinary creations in a dedicated on-site gallery, and integrating your Instagram feed onto your homepage (like Huel, in the example underneath). This will show people exactly what it’s like to use and consume your products, not to mention help build a community around your brand.
#12 Leverage a loyalty program
As an ecommerce retailer, a tiered loyalty program is a great tactic for driving repeat purchases and nurturing long-term relationships with your customers, all-in-all improving customer retention. This is especially important in subscription ecommerce where churn can be a major challenge for merchants, and even more so in the food and beverage vertical where long-term retention is particularly tricky to achieve.
Plus, at a time when consumers are tempted with more food and drink subscription options than ever before, a loyalty program that offers irresistible benefits could help differentiate your brand from the competition.
Here are some best practices when it comes to increasing retention with a loyalty program:
- Consider a special “subscribers only” tier that offers exclusive (and recurring!) perks, such as free shipping, bonus items and subscriber-only access to sales. The promise of regular, extra-special rewards will encourage existing customers to stick with their subscription, whilst also helping to attract new subscribers.
- Opt for a points-per-purchase scheme where subscribers are rewarded for each ongoing order. With their points quickly accumulating, they’ll be less inclined to cancel and lose what they’ve earned.
- As well as rewarding customers for each purchase, you can also gift them points for on-site actions, like leaving a review or completing your referral form. Not only will this incentive encourage engagement with your subscription website, it will help to drive customer advocacy.
- Build a community around your loyalty program, creating a forum or social platform where subscribers are encouraged to share photos of their home-cooked dishes or videos of them unboxing their latest box of coffees. Engagement like this fosters strong brand-consumer identification and cultivates long-term loyalty. Plus, you can leverage this UGC in your marketing strategy, as we explored earlier.
The go-to Shopify Plus agency for subscription brands
With a portfolio that includes household names like HelloFresh, Pasta Evangelists and Huel, we’re one of the leading Shopify Plus agencies for D2C subscription brands in the food and beverage industry. We leverage our enviable experience and unrivalled expertise to design, build and optimise tailored subscription websites that serve up outstanding results.
Custom-built subscription solutions for food and beverage websites
Depending on the type of subscription model your business has opted for, food and drink subscriptions can often come with many complexities. We thrive on overcoming challenges through creativity and innovation, and are known for building bespoke solutions to help handle these complexities.
“Things can get complicated behind the scenes if you’re sending out different curated products to subscribers with each delivery cycle (e.g. a unique combination of meal kits each month), as opposed to replenishing customers with the same food or drink in every delivery,” describes Nichola Birch, Swanky’s Product Manager.
“This is where a custom subscription app could help – one designed to cater specifically for your business’ needs.”
We recently worked on a new international subscription website for a leading meal kit provider, creating a bespoke solution to provide a seamless user experience for subscribers. James Kam-Radcliffe, Lead Developer at Swanky, explains more:
“There were complexities around making sure subscribers had meals selected even if they didn’t go into their account and choose them, and making sure they had the correct meals for any given week, as the available options differ from week to week. If, for example, a customer skips a week, we needed to take that into account and update the meals that they’ll receive on their next delivery.
We went through a very thorough wireframing process to fully understand the needs of the merchant, as well as their customers. This meant that when we went into the design and development phases of the project, we were confident that our solution would meet those needs.”
As well as building out subscription solutions from scratch, we’ve also got proven results in optimising subscription websites for growth.
For instance, in 2021, our Growth Accelerator team was recognised with a UK Digital Growth Award for its ongoing work with a leading subscription retailer, in which our commercially-led conversion rate optimisation program generated seven figures of additional annual revenue, exceeding the target by over 50%. Through a combination of data-driven A/B testing, recommendations and personalisation across this client’s subscription website, we’ve been able to facilitate significant digital growth and secure tangible financial wins.
Get in touch about your subscription website
So, if you’re hungry for ecommerce growth and want to know how we could unlock your brand’s potential with the power of subscription, contact our team today.