Top 7 Tips for Direct-Marketing Your Farm Products
Raising quality produce and livestock is not enough to make sure your farm is successful.
By Jodie Helmer and Jamie Cole | Photos By Art Meripol
The direct-to-consumer market is growing. The 2017 Census of Agriculture shows 130,056 United States farms directly marketed food to consumers with total sales of more than $2.8 billion. The average sales per farm totaled $21,570, although more than 70% of these farms reported sales of less than $5,000.
While farmers who decide to try direct-to-consumer marketing, the “marketing” part can be a stumbling block. “Most farmers are passionate about production, and they often spend much of their time thinking about and working on the production piece of the business,” says Megan Bruch Leffew, value-added marketing specialist for the Extension Center for Profitable Agriculture at the University of Tennessee. “If you build it, customers won’t necessarily come, and if they do come once, there is no guarantee that they will come back,” she says. “One of the main reasons [farms] fail is due to ineffective marketing.”
Here are seven marketing tips to successfully turn crops into cash.
Start With A Business Plan
“My best advice to farmers considering direct marketing or value-added enterprises is to do their homework ahead of time,” says Leffew. For farmers, a business plan means more than estimating profit and loss. It is vitally important to investigate regulations, too, for producing and packaging food for direct consumption.
Merchandise Your Produce
At the market, shoppers see the produce before they taste it. You might have the market’s best tasting fruits and vegetables, or the freshest eggs, but a poor display will hurt sales.
“You have to learn about good merchandising,” says Garry Stephenson, director of the Center for Small Farms at Oregon State University. “Like it or not, that’s how business is done.”
If you’re not sure how to show off your bounty, visit other markets to get ideas from farmers selling similar products on a similar scale. Apply your favorite design ideas in your market stall and watch how customers respond.
Diversification helps generate sales at the farmer’s market. Customers want to be able to walk into one market stall and buy all the fixings for dinner and dessert. The more you offer, the more you’ll sell.
Seek Premium Markets… And Premium Prices
A total of 28,958 U.S. farms sold food directly to retail markets, institutions, and food hubs for local or regionally branded products, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sales were reported at more than $9 billion. Average sales per farm were $312,042, although almost half of these farms reported sales of less than $5,000.
Since the margins in farming are thin, don’t ignore opportunities to charge premium prices for fresh, local foods. Many farmers want in on the restaurant market, which is often willing to pay premium prices to offer farm-to-table fare.
Reach New Customers
Technology has made it easier than ever to reach customers and boost sales. Show your wares on Facebook and Instagram, and send monthly newsletters to customers. Online subscriptions are also a draw, as you can ask your customers to set up one time and auto-renew for everything from milk delivery to CSA baskets.
Find Your Production Sweet Spot
Don’t grow or sell more than you can handle. Online sales are a growing trend, but there is often a sweet spot for what you can grow vs. what you can sell, and as some farmers have found, growth is not always the key performance indicator.
If you’re not inviting consumers to visit your farm directly, you might be missing an opportunity. Nearly $950 million in sales were made by 28,575 farms offering agritourism and recreational services, per the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Average sales per farm were $33,222, with more than half earning less than $5,000 in sales.