Three strategies to survive COVID-19 for small businesses in the food industry

woman in chef jacket

By Verónica Vásquez Cuerno | U.S. Embassy to El Salvador

screenshot from Zoom callCelina Portillo, CEO of Auténtico Bistro & Café, conducted a virtual roundtable with members of the YLAI Network in El Salvador. The issue on everyone’s minds was how to get their businesses through the current crisis caused by the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and by the quarantine that has forced them to close their restaurants. With the option of delivery or take-away service still allowed in the country, the entrepreneurs participating in the discussion shared their answers to three important questions: 1) How are they facing the crisis? 2) How are they continuing to add value to their brands? And 3) how are they preparing for the day when they can reopen their businesses?

Adapting is the key to continue to sell

Celina explained that at this time, customers are not thinking about gourmet food, which is one of the strengths of her company. So she has adapted her menu with options at lower prices, while focusing on the desserts and cakes that her customers order to celebrate their quarantined children’s birthdays. She home-delivers herself, since hiring someone to do it for her is out of the budget. She says she has drawn up a schedule of deliveries on certain days and times, agreed by the customers. She explained that if it is impossible to deliver the goods yourself, you can hire someone else and agree with the client that they will assume the cost of the delivery. Because in times of crisis, people need you to solve their needs. Other participants in the roundtable are implementing this strategy too: Gabriela went from organizing events to selling home lunches to two banks and a factory that have not closed; Alexandra makes “pan francés” (a basic item in the Salvadoran diet) instead of desserts; and Yazmin delivers basic lunches and other meals to her neighbors, who are tired of cooking during these days of quarantine. Another way to adapt is to implement card payments as customers do not want to run out of cash or have to handle it for hygiene reasons.

Keep your brand in the minds of customers

Maintaining a good relationship with clients requires effort and strategy. Loyalty and customer care involves selling the emotional connection that food has with a person’s life. Celina emphasized that she sells unforgettable moments, recalling a client who in a typical year buys from her only once but sends her at least 50 new clients. Celina recommends not only social media strategies during the quarantine, but also providing small bonus goods and services to the client. Along with the order of a cupcake or cake, she sends a postcard or a game designed by other entrepreneurs so people can entertain themselves at home during the quarantine.

Prepare for when the crisis ends

woman holding YLAI t-shirtCelina believes that this crisis will pass and that we have to organize and plan to face all the work that will come when the quarantine is over. She advises taking advantage of the free time to develop new menus, get your accounting in order, come up with fresh ideas for the business, conceptualize your events, start accepting credit cards, and take care of yourself. Pro tip: Investing some time to take the YLAI Network’s online courses is always a good idea!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. Government.