App as point of contact between store and cheese factory

Written by Leo Koomen, Lekkernijver 90. trade magazine for entrepreneurs in food specialties

Many cheese specialty stores have a line originating from the cheese factory of CONO Cheesemakers in their assortment. All those cheeses, with their own brand names, are supplied by the middleman. With an app for entrepreneurs, CONO now wants to get into direct contact with the sellers of their cheeses. Jef van de Vegte of CONO and entrepreneur Colin Cornel talk about the app.

"The CONO app is a business-to-business app for entrepreneurs who sell CONO cheese," says Jef van de Vegte, business development manager at CONO Cheesemakers. "With the app, entrepreneurs can be informed about everything CONO does, how we make our cheeses and why our cheeses are distinctive. The goal of the app is to generate fans and loyalty among these entrepreneurs. The CONO app is only for entrepreneurs and their staff in the traditional channel, not for supermarkets."

Why did CONO start this app?

Van de Vegte: "CONO makes cheese in a beautiful, distinctive way. At the same time, that cheese finds its way into the trade channel in many different guises, with different brands and private labels. CONO is not a brand in stores. But we, as a company, would like to develop means at the level of the entrepreneur to inform the entrepreneur about why our cheese is special and what makes CONO CONO. Because there are so many stories we can still tell about our cheese factory. However, we supply our cheeses to the merchants, who have a direct relationship with the entrepreneur. CONO itself is not a supplier to the store. We miss that direct relationship, while we think it's important to tell our story."

In what ways does the app help the entrepreneur store?

Van de Vegte: "Not when ordering, it's not an ordering app. We hope to inspire the entrepreneur by telling them more about the cheese they're selling and giving them tools they can use when selling."

You can do that with three A4 sheets, right?

Van de Vegte: "That is possible, but we choose the app as a modern means of communication. Part of it is an updated form of our website. That, by the way, is also the public part of the app, where anyone can access it to read about CONO. Another part is private. For that, the entrepreneur receives a personal activation code that gives him access. In that part we provide much more specific entrepreneurial information that can help him sell our cheeses better. For example: we have a lot of information and data in our company. We could help the entrepreneur with demographic factors of his catchment area, and that combined with the shopper behavior at a cheese store could help the entrepreneur to further specify his actions accordingly. And of course the app is still in development, that's the advantage of a digital product, that you can keep developing and improving it continuously."

Jef van de Vegte: CONO Cheese Makers

What is the savings system in the app?

Van de Vegte: "We give entrepreneurs the opportunity to save points that can be redeemed for fun products, workshops or a tour of our cheese factory. For example, when an entrepreneur has an action with CONO cheese that he would like to post on his social media, he can earn points with it by informing us about his action. Upon redeeming the saved points, he can then choose a reward such as support from CONO. This could take the form of workshops on cheese, social media use, help with making a video or a tour of our cheese factory, for example. So in addition to the information, the app also offers a loyalty program through which the entrepreneur can save up for additional support."

Saving points; that makes one think of saving towels at the gas pump. Surely an entrepreneur is too busy for that? Why is that a good idea anyway?

Van de Vegte: "So that's the biggest code we have to crack. Because it's not a consumer app, it's a B2B app. And we can't offer a discount, because we're not the direct supplier. So we have to bring actions and offer support that really benefits the entrepreneur. That's not an easy mission, but we believe that if we put our foot down on that, we can serve the entrepreneur in a very distinctive way."

But uploading photos, saving points, is an entrepreneur waiting for that in these busy times of tight markets?

Van de Vegte: "Henry Ford once said, 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.' We believe in it, we think we need to share all those stories about where the milk comes from, the efforts on the farm and making cheese with our entrepreneurs. Often entrepreneurs think they know it all, but there is still so much information to share about the wonderful craft of cheese making. We need to highlight that more, we owe it to our farmers. And at the same time we believe that if we tell that story to the entrepreneur, he can use that in his sales. And precisely that saving of points is good for generating an interaction, and leads to much more than just sending information from CONO."

What is CONO looking for in that interaction?

Van de Vegte: "We want to understand what is happening on the store floor, what the entrepreneur is struggling with and what he needs. For example: CONO prides itself on very sustainable operations. But what can the entrepreneur do with that? Which parts of that policy can he use and which not? For that, we need that contact with that entrepreneur."

How does saving work?

Van de Vegte: "There are two ways in which the entrepreneur can save points. The first is by scanning QR codes that we place in our ads, for example, and that our field service advisors carry with them. The second is by participating in our promotions. Then you can think of sharing a recipe on social media to adding the store staff to the CONO app and filling out a survey. We continue to renew and expand these promotions. The CONO store features the various rewards you can redeem your points for, just like you know from consumer apps. Social media training, a business scan of the store, a cheese workshop, as well as a dinner voucher, to also offer something outside the work sphere."

Colin Cornel is an entrepreneur at Kaasgenoten in Etten-Leur. What does he think of the CONO app?

"I am excited. I heard about it at the Foodspecialties Trade Fair. I saw it as a tool to help me sell more cheese. In the beginning I used it a lot, now actually not so much. That's the honest story. I used it intensively and gave a lot of feedback. It's really a nice tool to make me even better as an entrepreneur. On the one hand, I got a lot out of the story behind the cheese. But also through the app I came across sustainable CONO bags that we could give to customers. But the most important thing is that we let them taste the cheese, that our customers themselves choose a CONO cheese instead of an ordinary cheese. And if you let them taste, they are convinced. And if you then also give a bag or a dip with it, it sticks with the customer even better."

Colin Cornel: Cheesemates

And you got the background cheese from the app?

Cornel: "I myself do, my team does not yet, that will be the next step. I still have to push them to do that, to make sure they also start telling that story."

What makes you use the app less now?

Cornel: "At a certain point you've gone through all the steps and you feel you're done. The app is evolving, and one of my feedback points was also that you do need to keep being triggered to use the app again from time to time, because that's what makes it fun. It's nice to see videos from other entrepreneurs every now and then, or get new tips for the store."

Van de Vegte: "That is our biggest challenge: keeping the app alive. We have to keep filling it with new data, new actions, new information. That is the reason to keep coming back."

How long did you use the app?

Cornel: "A few months. And now I still look on it from time to time. Last week I had an action in front of the door tasting sandwiches with CONO cheese. Pictures of that I uploaded to the app. I'm not concerned with the points then, but rather that you are continually triggered by the app because they are actively doing it. I like that CONO is doing this, so I'm working on it."

Why isn't your staff working with the app yet?

Cornel: "That will come, I just need a good moment, or a good reason to get them interested in it. It will be the next step."

What have you personally learned from the app for your sales?

Cornel: "There is a place on the app where you can share recipes. That triggered me to make a cheese fondue recipe using only CONO cheese. We posted that on social media. My store sells mostly Dutch cheese, and we get customers for cheese fondue quite often. CONO comes up with something, and that gives me ideas, and now my CONO fondue is running really well."

What tips do you have for using the app for other entrepreneurs?

Cornel: "Actually no tips, the app is very user-friendly. It points itself out."

Would the recommend your app to colleagues?

Cornel: "Yes, very much so. Because there are good tools in there to make me stronger as an entrepreneur. Like sharing a recipe with CONO cheese on social media: I get points for it, which is nice, and it stimulates me to offer my customers something new. And even my colleague fifty meters away I would recommend the app. He also sells CONO. It doesn't bite, it's the same information we pass on to our customers. The app does have to keep triggering people to keep coming back to it. That's a tip to the creators at CONO."

Jef, Colin is positive about the app, but he still sees areas for improvement

Van de Vegte: "We are happy with that. It is useful criticism. We would rather have users who indicate what they would like to see improved than entrepreneurs who no longer hear from us and no longer use the app. The app is widely supported at CONO and there is plenty of effort to make it much better together. And we know we're not there yet. It is a work in progress and we are only at the beginning. This path has been deliberately chosen: first release and inform the entrepreneurs that this is phase 1, and then together with their input, feedback and wishes to further develop the app in order to improve it."

Cornel: "CONO is sticking its neck out with this, that's the most important thing. It's quite something new, it's creative out-of-the-box thinking. It's a great way for entrepreneurs to encourage each other to do fun things. Sharing pictures, what did you make, what display do you do, what actions and activities do you put in to sell more cheese. You can inspire and motivate each other with that."

Van de Vegte: "Working together on something is also something of CONO. After all, we are a cooperative."