In this section, we'll address three major components of marketing: choosing between various market avenues, reaching your customer base through surveys and labeling, and determining the price of your product.
It’s important to take some time to consider various market avenues that suite your business objectives while also meeting the needs of your consumers, so having a good understanding of who your customer base is will help you decide what market avenue is the best fit for your business. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common market avenues for farm businesses. You may decide that selling your product through one avenue is the best choice for your business, or you may use several of these market avenues to support your business. Again, this is not a complete list of markets, but it provides general information on some of the most common ways of selling farm products.
The demand for local foods continues to rise in Georgia and across the nation as people are increasingly more interested in knowing where their food comes from, how it was grown, and who grew it. Farmer’s markets are great for establishing relationships directly with your consumers and for building your reputation and brand within a community. Many people enjoy shopping at farmer’s markets for the added benefit of socializing with their community. Some things you should consider before deciding to sell your product at a farmer’s market are how many months does the market operate throughout the year, are there any vendor fees you’ll be responsible for, and is the market already saturated with the product you are trying to sell?
While selling at a farmer’s market may have many direct benefits to marketing your business, you’ll want to spend some time investigating how you’ll get your product to the market, how will you keep your product fresh, how will you display your product and design your booth to stand out, how much will you sell each product for so as not to over or undercut anything, and what will you do with any left overs that were not sold during market hours?
- The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) publication Farmers Markets: Marketing and Business Guide is a great publication available for free download, that offers advice on how to start a market, improve your sales at a market, and how to evaluate your market success.
- The Growing for Market publication Selling at Farmer's Markets is a free publication online that covers creating great displays, setting fair prices, food safety and sampling, what the most profitable crops are and more.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a type of farm subscription where individuals and families support a local farm by purchasing an entire growing seasons' worth of produce in advance, then receive a box of mixed produce each week throughout the season. Some of the advantages to this type of market is that you may not need to leave your farm to sell your product, as many people enjoy visiting the farm to pick up their CSA box. There is also some flexibility with selling these farm shares, as you can change up the contents of the box from week to week depending on what you have ready for harvest. While receiving money up-front for these farm shares may be helpful to you, you'll need to make sure you have a solid budget in place for the rest of the season so you don't overspend on the front end. The risk associated with offering CSA's is that you are essentially promising a certain amount of people that you will provide them with a product before you've even harvested or processed the product, so this type of market is better suited for producers who have a little more experience with growing and producing on their land. Another option with CSA is a cooperative with other farmers in your area. This is a great way for new and beginning farmers to plan their season ahead of time with other farmers, agreeing to grow certain things that will be put into the CSA boxes. This co-op CSA alleviates the pressure for farmers to grow everything themselves, and can be very helpful if you experience a hardship or low crop yields.
Restaurant sales can be a great way of selling your product locally; however, it may take some time to establish working relationships with restaurant owners and chefs that lead to consistent sales. Restaurant owners and chefs need a consistent product, both in quality and quantity, in order to plan their menus with certainty; therefore, you’ll need to establish trust by providing good quality produce, in a timely fashion on a consistent basis. Once this relationship is established, restaurants can be a great market for farmers, as they enjoy buying seasonal, local products that, in turn, help you market your business to their clientele. Marketing Produce Direct to Restaurants can give you tips on how to access this market successfully. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) also has a great publication which provides Tips for Selling to Restaurants.
Selling to grocery store chains and specialty retail stores can be an excellent avenue for a large producer or for farm businesses that sell value-added products. The main challenge with this market avenue is that you’ll need to invest plenty of time marketing your product and evaluating your sales, because if your product does not sell in the stores, you will eventually lose that hard-earned shelf-space. You may consider other ways of marketing your product, such as doing in-store demos.Selling to grocery stores requires good agricultural and post-harvest handling practices to maintain food safety and quality, which can be demonstrated by having a current USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certificate. Retailers may also want consistent packaging or quantities. Programs, such as the Flavor of Georgia, help farmers and food businesses that specialize in value-added products to market their products and gain exposure.
A food distributor acts as a middleman between the farmers and the customers or retailers. They purchase your product and then sell the same product to various end markets, such as grocery stores, restaurants, markets, schools, etc. This is a great market avenue for someone with a large volume of product. You’ll need to form a good relationship with a food distributor as these can be long-lasting working relationships that depend on consistency and trust. A few things you should consider when working with distributors is whether you need to clean, package and deliver your products to them or if they will do any or all of this themselves. You’ll also want to make sure you’re clear about what you’ll have growing for the upcoming season as distributors will need to make arrangements with their customers ahead of time. You’ll also need to take the time to know what regulations apply to you and what labels might be required when selling through a distributor – make sure your selling a legal product in the state of Georgia by reviewing the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the United States Food and Drug Administration requirements. Another important consideration is that you are clear about your pricing needs, as this is a wholesale market avenue and typically does not return as much as direct marketing avenues.
Farm to School
Selling to schools is a great way to get healthy, local, and seasonal produce to children in your community and can be a great market for you as a business owner if you are able to forge this relationship with local schools. You will need to reach out to the school nutrition directors to find out how to be considered as a supplier for their school lunches. When communicating with school nutrition directors, you’ll need to let them know what you intend to have available each season so they can make plans for lunch menus ahead of time. You may be required to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) or Good Handling Practices (GHP) certifications, and you may also need to share your food safety plan with the nutrition director to help ensure that you are taking maximum care in preventing food safety issues. It's a good idea to take the time to read about school funding and the roles school nutrition directors play in procuring food for school lunches so you can better communicate and develop a working relationship.
Selling your produce or agricultural products from a roadside store or stand is one of the best ways to communicate that you have fresh, local goods. Depending on the location of the store or stand, the potential visual exposure can be very high, especially along busy interstates where travelers may be inclined to make a stop along their commute. An excellent resource for learning more about selling at roadside stores/stands is the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development presentation titled "Roadside Stand Marketing of Fruits and Vegetables", which covers marketing trends and tactics, customer profiles, salesmanship, budgeting, and more. Some things you should consider before deciding to sell at a roadside store/stand are the traffic patterns where you intend to sell. You'll want to make sure you are visible from a distance so customers have time to slow down and visit with you. It's a better and safer idea to have your stand on a road or highway with a slower speed limit, and you'll want to make sure you have plenty of room for parking.
Agritourism is all about the experience and the story, and the uniqueness of the product you are selling. This can be a great business model for small farms or as an additional farm revenue for larger farms (festivals, on-farm stores, wedding venues, and more).The University of Georgia's Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development along with North Carolina State Cooperative Extension created a helpful manual for those interested in starting an agritourism business. The complete manual is Agritourism Your Way: A How-To Guide for Successful Agritourism Enterprises
Reaching Your Customer Base
Questions and Surveys
Take the time to follow up with your customers to make sure you're meeting the needs and expectations they have of you or your product. After all, you are relying on their business. Talk with your customers, and invest some time into creating customer satisfaction surveys that can be handed out in person, or done online (which will depend on your comfort level with technology and the audience you're marketing to). Social media is also a convenient and growing area for marketing businesses and products, and many of the social media platforms record profile data so you can easily track how many people you are reaching.
Certifications and Labels
Holding certain certifications or having specific labels on your product is a way of communicating a specific message to your customers. You may want to consider applying for specific certifications that will allow you to use labels that help distinguish your farm business and products apart from other similar farm business operations. There are many different labels available for producers which have specific requirements, so make sure to understand the requirements for using those labels before applying for certification. A helpful resource for understanding different marketing labels is the UGA Extension publication Common Labels and Certifications Used to Market Agriculture Products.
Pricing Your Product
One great way of finding current average prices for fruits and vegetables is the USDA Custom Average Tool (CAT). You can adjust the settings of the tool to find prices for different agricultural products, locations, and times of the year.
If you are looking for additional information on marketing, please see our Resources page to find other publications and useful tools.