In terms of holiday shopping, Black Friday and Cyber Monday tend to get lots of attention. Perhaps less noted, but just as important, is the impact of pre-Thanksgiving food shopping on the grocery industry supply chain system. This is, unsurprisingly, a major time for food product delivery. But as one recent report noted, 2016's online sales figures seem to surpass even the typical expectations for this time of year.

Significant digital growth
According to online grocery solutions company Unata, the "Thanksgiving period" saw sales grow 19 times higher online than they did for in-store transactions. On average, online interactions increased by 22.6 percent during this time, while the average number of unique users grew by 20.3 percent.

The company's VP of Retail Solutions Dan Farmer said that the new statistics show important evidence of changing habits.

"The growth in online grocery sales that we're seeing over this food-centric holiday is proof that consumers are ready and willing to embrace online for their grocery shopping needs, especially during busy times," Farmer said. He later added that "if a retailer does not invest in a digital offering, and immediately embrace this shift in shopper behavior, their business will be at risk."

Food transport evolves
Digital alternatives and supplements to the supply chain are affecting all industries, but food suppliers could change in some notable ways. In some cases, it might challenge the current structure of the grocery chain entirely, as farmers try to cultivate direct connections with their buyers.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that the food safety company Emerson is using smarter systems to monitor supply chain refrigeration. This is reportedly due in part to the fact that the majority of consumer respondents believe improved data usage is essential to keep food safe, according to one of the company's surveys. The "cold chain" is therefore linked to the expanding capabilities of the Internet, and in high-demand seasons like Thanksgiving, that could continue to matter.

Online sales shape the future
Shoppers are increasingly adapting to online marketplaces, and the results could force grocery businesses to think more about transformation. In a piece for Supply Chain Digital, SCM World CCO Kevin O'Marah said that digital demand can be just the root of a mass integration, with sensors and digital information enhancing business moves from product design to marketing.

What's more, O'Marah said that year-over-year e-commerce figures have grown by at least 15 percent every quarter for more than a year. An increase in consumer presence online also could bring "on-demand" or custom elements to several different processes within food product development. Some examples O'Marah gives include formulating orders or even creating specific packaging.

Of course, it will be important to follow the e-commerce statistics throughout the year, not just during the holidays, to truly measure the impact. All the same, supplier relationship management will clearly continue to be critical, as companies tailor their current networks to create a more loyal customer base and a more efficient way to distribute goods. Sourcing strategically could help entities join this trend for a strong path forward.
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