Thursday, December 22, 2011

Educate Yourself Before Setting Up Religious Food Displays

Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah are some of the biggest holidays in December and are associated with special foods. If you want to set up a display in your store dedicated to a religious holiday, be sure to educate yourself on what foods to include and not to include.

By not doing some research before setting up a religious food display, you may offend followers of that religion like Whole Foods and CVS did this year. In the article "Whole Foods, CVS Confuse Jewish Holidays With Incorrect Displays", author Rachel Tepper describes how these 2 stores messed up:
*Whole Foods displayed matzoh- an unleavened bread traditionally eaten during the week of Passover, not Hanukkah.
*CVS made a display showing an image of shofar and pomegranates- items associated with Rosh Hashanah, not Hanukkah.

As an food or farm business owner, have you ever set up a religious holiday-based food display? What were customer reactions? Do you have any tips for other ag entrepreneurs?

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Human Interaction' Making a Comeback

Shopping in a large grocery store doesn't give customers much interaction with store employees. This way of shopping has been popular for a long time, but according to a survey conducted by Adaptive Path (a design firm focusing on customer experience), customers are now looking for a personal experience in their shopping.

Peter Merholz, president of Adaptive Path, says that consumers want "low-key, face-to-face interactions with merchants". Evidence of this can be seen in the decline of self-checkouts and the rise of food trucks and farmers' markets. The Food Marketing Institute reports that in 2007, 22% of grocery store orders in the US were paid at a self-checkout. In 2010, that number dropped to 16%. Agricultural Marketing Service reports a 53% increase in the number of farmers' markets from 2008 to 2011 (as seen in the graph below).

Merholz also said, "In our increasingly connected world, people crave authentic human interaction, and the future of retail is going to look a lot more like it did in the more distant past and a lot less like the bureaucratically driven mass consumerism we grew to expect in the 20th century."


Sounds like great news for ag business owners! Do you feel that your business succeeds because of the human interaction? What kind of feedback do your customers give you about "having someone to talk to"? Are there any groups of people (women, men, seniors, married, no children, etc) that you think enjoy the human interaction more than another group?

Three Things I Think I Know About Local Food Systems

If you follow me on Twitter (@jeffhyde) or are Facebook Friends with me, you may know that I recently attended a Forum to discuss Regional Food Systems with about 40 colleagues from Land Grant Universities in the Northeast.  The Forum was wonderful, bringing together many different people from many different states with many different sets of expertise; economists, plant pathologists, nutritionists, food scientists, horticulturists...  The meeting helped me to solidify some of my thoughts on the topic. Here's the top three things I think that I know....

1. The Customer is Always Right
This is the version of the Golden Rule in which those who have the gold make the rules.  At the end of the proverbial day, the consumers have the money that drives the system.  Over time, the distribution system in the US has focused on providing a diversity of food products at relatively low cost.  Economists who study trade, including international trade, talk a lot about exploiting "relative advantages," making all parties better off if we trade.  That argument applies to any scale of the problem, including global trade.  So, it's no surprise that the distribution system doesn't support local food distribution very well.

To really change the system, it's going to take a willingness on the part of businesses and/or government to step in and modify the food distribution system.  Most of the arguments for this focus on government intervention, which is understandable.  In the long run, though, it will take private investment to sustain it, even if it happens initially as a result of government policy.  Private businesses absolutely would be willing to modify the distribution network if there were increased profits to be made in doing it.

In my opinion, the customers must be willing to pay higher prices for some foods if a distribution system is to develop in order to support a more robust local food system.  While some consumers have shown a willingness to do this, most have not.  Therefore, I think this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

2. There Are Opportunities to Innovate in the Middle
It's no secret that a farmer can recover more of the consumer dollar if he or she is able to "eliminate the middle man" on some functions.  For example, selling at a farmers' market eliminates one or more "middle men" that provide food distribution services.  I regularly tell farmers that this extra money isn't free.  The farmer must bear the cost associated with those functions that are being replaced.  One of the Forum participants told a story that made this point clear, describing one farmers' fatigue of harvesting in the early hours, packaging it, transporting to the farmers' market, selling all day, closing down the booth, driving home, handling the business's Facebook page, and then getting up early the next day to do it all over again.  That farmer is now considering a significant scaling back of the marketing function in order to deal with burn out.

In my experience, stories like this aren't unique.  There are "points of pain" in the local food distribution network that provide opportunity for entrepreneurial action.  Distribution, aggregation, processing, packaging, and marketing are all things that "middle men" do.  Maybe we need more middle men if the local food system is to develop and be sustainable.  I believe there are entrepreneurial opportunities to be explored here.

3. There Are Opportunities to Innovate on the Farm
I'm not blue in the face yet, so I better keep saying it... There are opportunities for almost any farm business because consumers demand diversity.  Because the customer is always right, farm and food business owners have to understand these customers and how to meet their needs.  That, after all, is the heart of marketing!

In my opinion, entrepreneurship is the key to long-term survival in agriculture.  Understanding what you can do to meet consumer needs and be profitable/sustainable is critical.  The entrepreneurship research literature is filled with various theories and case studies about this, but it's almost universally accepted that successful entrepreneurs consistently figure out ways to address needs for those who can pay for the solution.  This may mean developing new food products, growing different crops or livestock, opening the farm to the public, or many other options.  So, all in the food system need to keep an eye on their industry, looking for opportunities to innovate.  Consumer demand for local food creates opportunities, but great skill is needed to seize those opportunities and make money from them!

I'm always interested to hear others' thoughts about local food systems and how they can be developed and supported.  Comments are, therefore, welcome!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cross Promotion: Partnering With Other Business to Better Serve Your Customers, Part III

In this final installment of discussing cross promoting I've suggested thinking about hosting events with complementary businesses and how this partnership might "cost" businesses involved in such a venture.

Hosting Events Together

Though one business may develop the vision for an event the responsibility of coordinating and implementing it needs to be shared. There are advantages that two or more establishments provide and gain by working together.  For example, if an event’s focus is outdoor entertaining the retailer may be interested in pairing up with a local winery or specialty food retailer. Another complementary business could be a local florist.

Allow time for a series of demonstrations, such as meal preparation using value-added processed foods, home entertaining, and flower arranging. Both businesses should also provide goods that could be included in gift baskets for sale, raffle, or door prize.
Considering Your Costs

Cross promotion cannot be implemented without certain “costs.”  Some of which include:
·    how much complementary product should be used in displays,
·    whether or not the shelf or floor space will be provided for free or if the space will be rented,
·    what discounts to apply if customers buy a combination of products offered by both businesses,
·    how advertising and promotional costs will be shared,
·    how many times during a season or year each business will agree to provide information for blogs, newsletters, etc. and the number of feature articles each business will write, and
·    how staff will be allocated for events and activities, if one business provides space for the event what the other business will offer in compensation.

Additionally, staff should be educated about the complementary products, how to use the item, benefits for customers, and related.  Staff should be able to answer basic questions about why the businesses are cross promoting each others’ product and provide customers with at least an introduction on how to use the products. 

These are just a few possibilities for cross promotion and obtaining access to new customers.  Your decision will ultimately depend on the amount of time you and your staff have available, your budget, business goals, and facilities available.  There are tradeoffs to consider; however, working together can provide benefits for your business and customers you serve. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cross Promotion: Partnering With Other Business to Better Serve Your Customers, Part II

       This posting, the second in the cross promoting series, focuses on how to join efforts with complementary businesses to communicate with your customers and theirs.

Newsletters and Blogs

How do you currently communicate with your customers?  Whatever methods you use to inform and remind customers about your business or persuade them to buy your products, there is at least one way to cross promote each others’ products and expertise.

With the number of garden centers who have a blog, newsletter, or other publication that they publish on regular basis it is highly likely that the person writing these pieces often has to find items to write about.   Short pieces can alert readers about the complementary business or a new product they are offering.  Feature articles can describe how products from both businesses could be incorporated into new gardening trends or an upcoming event that the two businesses are co-sponsoring.  Do not forget to include the complementary business’s logo, URLs or hyperlinks to their website, and contact information.

Also, invite the other business to write a newsletter item or be a guest blogger.  Suggest a topic so the guest writer has some direction as to what your readers might be interested in learning and that would meld well with other items you are including in the newsletter or blog.  

Your Website, Facebook, and Twitter

Your website is an ideal outlet for cross promotion activities.  Use space on your website to inform readers about complementary businesses you cross promote with and provide space for their advertisements.  If customers sign-up for your newsletter online provide an option that would allow them to sign up for other businesses’ newsletters or add a link that will take them to the other businesses’ online form.

When it comes to Facebook, make sure that you “like” business you cross promote with, post images of events and activities both businesses implement, include links to articles, and mention each other in postings.  Tweets you publish on Twitter should also mention your cross promotion partners.  Include these businesses in your #followfriday (#ff) tweets (a strategy used on Fridays to suggests to your Twitter followers who they should also follow) retweet (forwarding another Twitter user’s tweets to your followers) appropriate messages, publish tweets when you add their products to your displays, and similar.   Inform your customers about joint activities while reminding them about your business.

Until next time when I’ll present ideas on how to cross promote with other businesses to host events and some of the costs to consider when entering into this type of relationship.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cross Promotion: Partnering With Other Business to Better Serve Your Customers, Part I

           With consumers desiring outdoor living spaces, complete with lighting and kitchen components, and baskets filled with wine, assorted cheese, and other food and non-edible items always proving to be popular gift items, how can ag. retailers provide such items when they do not stock and sell all the components?  One idea is to partner with business owners who sell complementary goods and services, thus the two businesses work together to help customers obtain a complete “package.”  

           Promoting goods and services offered by business owners you have an existing and trusted relationship with takes the guess work out of where to direct customers and your recommendation also helps reduce the risk for your customers.  Such a situation, known as cross promotion, is based on two (or more) businesses working together towards a common goal.  

        In this blog posting I’ve presented ideas for cross promoting in the retail space, but over the next couple of posts I’ll provide examples of how retailers can cross promote in other ways.  When cross promoting works, efforts coordinated with a complementary business provides certain benefits:
· expanding your customer base,
· greater reach with promotions and advertising,
· reduced marketing costs, and
· increased profits

Putting Items on Display

        Displaying items produced or sold by complementary businesses is one cross promotion strategy.  You may already have relationships with business owners who produce or sell items that would complement what you offer, but what if you do not?   What goods and services could appeal to your customer based on their demographics, behaviors, and interests?  If you do not already sell items like bath and body products, jewelry, specialty foods, place settings, or the like, search for businesses that do.  Once you have assembled a list, learn about clientele they serve, search for reviews customers post online about their shopping experiences, and investigate as much as you can about their business practices before requesting to meet.  Just as you put thought into developing a relationship with a new vendor the same amount of consideration is required when selecting a business to cross promote products.  

        Signage placed next to items should include a description of the product as well as information about the complementary business (e.g. business history, other available products, contact information) and an explanation as to why the product is so unique that you decided to display it in your store.  Don’t forget to ask the other business to reciprocate by incorporating select products you offer into their displays.

        The possibilities of what type of businesses to cross promote with are endless.  Displaying complementary items together is just one step, in the next few postings I’ll provide examples of how to cross promoting when communicating with customers and when hosting events, as well as the “costs” to consider before committing to this partnership.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mobile Payment: A Direct Marketing Tool

The Penn State Extension Ag Entrepreneurship team, along with Ohio State and Minnesota Extension, have developed a series of webinars on social media and mobile technology for ag businesses (more information on the webinar series at  These issues are especially pertinent for direct marketers who are rapidly finding that they need to engage their customers using these tools.

One of the webinar sessions will focus on mobile technology available for use by farm markets, farmers markets, roadside stands, and agri-tourism businesses to accept payments.  Chris Raines, Assistant Professor and webinar team member, was motivated to learn more about mobile payment following his own mobile payment experience when getting take-out.  So he purchased the needed attachment for his iPhone and tried it out.  Check out his blog post on his experiment and thoughts regarding mobile payment possibilities for direct marketers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should your website also come in a mobile version?

As a small business owner, you have probably realized more and more how important online sales are, but should you also have a mobile version of your site too? A mobile site is a version of a website created specifically for smartphones or tablets (like iPads, Kindle Fires, HP Touchpads, etc). Companies create mobile versions of their site because their regular website may take too long to load or may seem squashed on the smaller screens of these mobile devices. When a customer visits a site via their mobile device, the browser automatically detects the mobile device and switches to the mobile version of the website. (To see some examples, visit or on your computer and then visit these sites on your mobile device.)

If you have a great, working website, why spend the time and money on a mobile version too? According to a recent article on, tablet users typically spend 10-20% more on purchases than customers without tablets. Also, mobile commerce spending was about $3 billion in 2010 in the U.S. and is expected to jump to $31 billion by 2016.

You may also be wondering who is using tablets. U.S. tablet owners are:
-college graduates (51%)
-employed full-time (62%)
-earning salaries of $100,000+ (50%).

54 million people are estimated to own tablets by early 2012 and nearly 108 million by 2015 (a third of U.S. population).

Is a mobile version of your website right for you? Make sure you do your homework! Ask yourself some important questions (and some questions of your customers):
-How easy/hard is your website to read and navigate on a mobile device?
-What technical expertise is needed to create a mobile site? Does your web developer have these skills?
-How much will it cost to create and maintain?
-Poll your customers: Do they currently own a mobile device? Do they use their mobile device to shop? Do they think a mobile version of your website would be easier to use on their mobile device?

As an agricultural business owner, have you had any customer feedback about online or mobile shopping? How much of your profits is related to online or mobile shopping?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Note About Customer Service

In my last post, I talked about Heinz using Facebook as an exclusive launch pad for its new balsamic ketchup. I personally thought this was a very interesting marketing technique, so I logged on to the Heinz Facebook page on unveiling day to buy a bottle. Unfortunately, the new ketchup was so popular that their page crashed!

I was thoroughly impressed with the way Heinz handled the situation. When I went back to their Facebook page later in the day, Heinz quickly responded to the issue. They reported that they were unsure as to what caused the glitch, but that anyone who had trouble placing an order could order now and Heinz would add an additional bottle for free and free shipping.

Obviously, giving away free products and free shipping is very costly (especially to a small business). If you have a similar situation (whether it's online or not), take a cue from Heinz-- respond quickly and offer your sincerest apologies. If you can, throw in an apology gift to keep those customers coming back (but be sure not to break the bank) like a coupon, discount, reduced or free shipping, or free samples. You always want to keep those customer relationships strong!

As a small food or farm business owner, have you ever had a problem (whether it's web ordering, product shortages, etc) that has kept you from filling orders? How did you handle it? Did you manage to save the relationships with your customers?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Retailers - keep rotating merchandise and rearranging displays

Most every retailer has started decorating for the winter holidays, or at least will choose to do so after Thanksgiving.  Nevertheless, all retailers should understand the importance of changing the “look” of their outlet on a regular basis, whether it is a display, a window, or how customers will walk the floor. 

Why might you want to change or rearrange product placement or how customers must walk to get to key departments or merchandise?  The reason is simple – if you keep products displayed in the same location or do not rotate merchandise in key sales areas it is likely that repeat customers, who are accustomed to purchasing one or two items and then leave the premises, will never notice items other than what is on their list.  By moving “anchor goods” (items that customers purchase often and “draw” consumers to visit the retailer) to other locations, or mixing seasonal goods in with more commonly stocked items (so that customers looking for holiday decorations will notice other products) customers will certainly notice items that they may not have considered or may not even have realized were stocked and sold.

Aside from rotating merchandise, another way to periodically change the look of a display, or draw attention to a particular area, is to set up temporary and portable backdrops that complement product placed in front.  One way to achieve the goal of easily and cost effectively changing a backdrop is to hang fabric.  The numbers of colors and textures available, as well as being relatively easy to store, provide a realistic solution for retailers who may not have a large floor space and are limited in how they can rearrange merchandise.

Now, how often should you rearrange or change the look of your outlet?  It is suggested that retailers change some component of their window or floor display, or other design element, at least once a month; however, if your average customer visits more frequently than consider changing and rearranging more often. Again, it is in not necessary to completely rotate and/or redesign the entire retail space at this frequency, rather find something that you can change easily and that customers will notice.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heinz is leading the way in combining social media and sales

As we've discussed many, many times in this blog, social media is here to stay, so why not use it to your advantage? As a business owner, connect with your customers and get more involved in that bond. Market your products, your business, and yourself via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.

Earlier this year, Heinz set some new Facebook records in the UK. To launch their new balsamic ketchup, Heinz decided to use Facebook (with 45,000 UK fans) as their exclusive launch pad. This was the first time a food product has been exclusively launched via Facebook and the first time branded food products have been sold via Facebook.

Heinz will be doing the same thing here in the USA, but only to a much larger crowd (Heinz's USA Facebook page has over 852,000 fans). Starting November 14th, Heinz will launch it's balsamic ketchup via it's Facebook page. This will be the only place to buy it until it reaches stores in late December.

To read more about balsamic ketchup, please visit the Supermarket Guru.

As an ag business owner, what are your thoughts on launching a product exclusively through Facebook (or any other social media)? Would you try it? As a consumer, do you feel a certain "exclusivity" by only being able to buy this ketchup via Facebook? Do you think Heinz's marketing is innovative?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Five Predictions for Social Media: 2012

I just read a great post about what 38 Social Media experts see for 2012.  (I encourage you to take a look!) While a few of the specifics aren't really relevant for small businesses (mainly because they are related to investment in people or technology), most of the general points are perfectly applicable to small businesses, including food and ag.  The article has prompted me to do 2 things.  This post is one of them. You'll hear more about the second one soon....

Back to the business at hand....

After reading this article as well as the chicken bones that I threw down this morning, I see five themes emerge.
  1. Social Media Usage Will Increase: This prediction is low risk!  The rate of growth in the use of the most popular Social Media tools is astounding.  Some of this is due to the growth in use of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets (such as the iPad).  These devices make it easy to post to Facebook or Yelp, send a tweet, or check in on foursquare from just about anywhere.  Additionally, some people who have been on the sidelines are now being drawn into the Social Media world in order to connect with friends and family members. Several grandparents have told me that they registered for Facebook so that they could stay connected to their grandkids. Expect more users and for those users to connect more frequently and in new ways. APPLICATION POINT: As more customers use Social Media tools, owners need to continually think about how the tools can be used to engage those customers.  Ask customers how they want to connect.
  2. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Mobile Devices: I'm one of those people who have a bit of a panic attack when separated from my phone.  How will I check in? How will I tweet about my lunch? How will I find out what's going on in the world?  You get the picture!  In the article, Loren McDonald uses the word "mocial" to reflect integration of "social" and "mobile."  Not only do mobile devices allow users to interact in "typical" ways via Twitter/Facebook/etc. but they also allow for check ins, capturing photos and videos, scanning QR codes, comparing prices through mobile web, etc.  The integration of these features with Social Media is expected to become more pervasive.  APPLICATION POINT: Take control of your location on foursquare, Facebook, Yelp, Google Places, etc. This will help you track what's being said and monitor your customers who are using these tools.
  3. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Other Media and Events: Business owners have been using radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other tools since they first became available.  It was absolutely unheard of, not that long ago, for a business not to have a website.  Today, integrating Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp, or other Social Media into a website is commonplace.  I also see signs at retail outlets indicating that the store can be found on Google Places, foursquare, Yelp, or other services.  QR codes on packaging, store shelves, and signs are more frequent.  Some TV ads encourage viewers to use Shazam to learn more about the retailer or products.  TV shows are encouraging live tweeting with the hosts or stars.  APPLICATION POINT: Create a Twitter hashtag for your event, such as a Fall Festival.  Add QR codes where they make sense.  Make sure to feature your Facebook page on your brochures or electronic media.  Cross referencing your own media will help you reach a broader audience!  Also, don't forget about your blog if you have one.  Search engines love blogs!
  4. Customers Will Increasingly Filter Social Media for What They Want Most: If you're like me, you might get a little perturbed with all the changes that Facebook and Twitter are making.  I don't really want to know what music my friends are listening to on Spotify or what they're reading in the Washington Post.  Yet, there it is, right in my News Feed, Ticker, and Timeline.  Luckily for me (but not for Spotify), Facebook and Twitter allow me to take some action to avoid all that.  Third party curation tools are widely used to sort through mounds of content to give users what they really want.  APPLICATION POINT: Be relevant to your target audience.  Connect with them directly with messages that resonate with them.  Be social and focus on relationship building.  Don't give them a reason to filter you out of their feeds.
  5. Businesses Will Be More Strategic With Social Media and Will Seriously Assess Return on Investment: I've been asked many times for data about return on investment (ROI) in Social Media. Frankly, I'm often dismissive in the context of the types of businesses I work with.  To some extent, it's like asking what the ROI is for your cell phone or computer.  Social Media are tools to connect you with customers.  The cost of using Social Media in a small business are often low unless one begins to put a lot of time into it.  Because the cost is low, returns don't need to be huge to justify using it.  However, Social Media should be part of a holistic, strategic marketing plan.  APPLICATION POINT: If you're really interested in developing a marketing strategy to integrate Social Media and other marketing tools, your costs will go up, even if those costs are only represented by time devoted to it.  Therefore, set goals for Social Media and track them.  Be ready to make changes where needed.
This stuff is exciting!  Most small businesses, including food and agricultural ones, are successful over the long run because of relationships that they make with customers, especially a few strong relationships with key customers.  Owners manage these relationships with personal visits, phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  We're still on the front edge of learning how these relationships will be managed in the future in a world of Social Media tools; where the new word-of-mouth occurs through a check in with a picture and short blurb about how great (or how bad) the product is and where that check in is Facebooked, tweeted, Yelped, and so on.  These tools will help you strengthen relationships with some customers.  Your task is to figure out which ones and target them in a way that provides value to them and to your business.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thinking About Christmas Shoppers

It's that time of year again!

Christmas Countdown

I know for most of you Christmas is a long way away, but according to a SymphonyIRI Group Holiday Shopping 2011 survey, 73% of respondents plan to start shopping early (before Dec. 1) in hopes of saving money. Also, 71% of consumers earning less than $100,000 plan to spend less this holiday.
Fourty-four percent of respondents say that their reason for less spending is because they feel worse off financially now than a year ago. As a result, 26% expect to spend less on holiday gifts, 16% will spend less on holiday foods and beverages, and 11% will spend less on beer, wine, and spirits.
As an ag business owner, are you prepared for early shoppers and more people "looking for a deal"? Are you planning on running any holiday discounts? What about holiday advertising? Are you concerned about your sales of holiday foods?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Price Competition: Shoppers Value a Bargain!

Do you know a bargain hunter? You know, the type of person that is drawn to a "SALE" sign like a moth to a flame...  Most of us know one or two, I'm sure.  I learned a little more about these people last week, thanks to a paper presented at a conference by some researchers from Washington State University (Li, McCluskey, and Mittelhammer).

The research team analyzed the responses to "permanent" price drops (that is, those that were due strictly to supply and demand conditions) versus promotional, or short-term, price drops.  They used data from supermarket scanners, so they were able to analyze real transactions under real market conditions.  They did this for several different types of vegetables.

Guess what they found...  Consumers were more responsive to short-term price decreases than they were to permanent ones.  This suggests that promotions may be a better method to generate increased sales than being viewed as having low prices all the time.  On the other hand, it also means that promotions that happen too frequently may cause customers to pull back when a promotion isn't underway.

This phenomenon doesn't really surprise me.  I may or may not be related to a bargain hunter and I have come to understand that the purchase is more than the purchase.  Getting a bargain is a badge of honor; a story to tell friends, family, and co-workers.  I get that.  But there may be other factors at play.  In a stagnant economy like this one, we see shows like TLC's "Extreme Couponing" become popular.  To get these types of bargains, it often means buying in bulk.  So hoarding, or "stocking up" is a factor that drive sales during promotions.  (For something like vegetables, this may mean freezing or canning, so be sure to offer tips on how to do that.)

There's good science and economics behind pricing strategies that include short-term promotions.  Business owners should think about using them frequently, but not so much that they become the norm.  Watch sales (in dollars and quantities) to see how effective the promotions are.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marketing Your Products With Charity Donations

In April of 2010, I wrote a post about charity donations. I thought I'd follow up with some more research on what charities customers prefer. Take a look in your refrigerator and pantry. Do you have any products that mention a charity donation? In my kitchen, I've got cereal, granola bars, and yogurt like that. Not all donation advertisements are equal, though. According to a study by The Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research, 43% of women choose brands that donate with every purchase over brands that donate a set amount.

Does the type of charity make a difference to shoppers? The research says 'yes' (the study results can be found at Women are attracted to causes that invoke an emotional or personal response like disease prevention, faith-based, animal welfare, and child welfare. Men, on the other hand, seem to be attracted to causes of a social nature where money is a fix as compared to an emotional tie.

"Brands need to appeal to men's rationale side, delivering a more rational benefit for their participation in a cause program, which can lead to higher engagement. Men are more likely to support organizations like The Salvation Army or Goodwill, with women saying they support disease prevention causes such as breast cancer awareness," said Craig Elston, SVP, The Integer Group. "If you're targeting women, focus on the messaging as a means to evoke emotion."

As an ag entrepreneur, have you advertised charity donations with the sale of your products? If so, have you seen an increase in sales? If you have tried different charities, have you seen significant differences in the sales of one charity product over another?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Social Media Aren't the Only Ways to be Social

I was walking through the soccer fields last week when I had a chance to talk to a lady I know from involvement in various activities in the community.  The conversation wound through topics such as our kids, sports, and some work stuff before it came around to Facebook.  She has no use for it!  She has major issues with privacy but, even if that weren't the case, she just doesn't see a need for it.  I hear this a lot, though maybe not quite so adamantly as I did from her.  There is a bunch of people that aren't going to latch onto social media like I have and maybe like you have.  Business owners and we in Extension must continue to engage people where we can, when we can, and how we can.

One of my social media mentors, Max Spiegel, describes social media as a cocktail party.  Party-goers mingle, make small talk with some, have longer, more meaningful chats with others, etc. Based on my experience, I'd agree with Max.  Bottom line; business success is all about communication and social media tools are just another way to do it.  

There's still very much a role for phones, emails, and maybe even written or printed stuff, like flyers or brochures.  None of these are my preferred modes of communication anymore.  (My least favorite feature of my cell phone is the phone.)  But I know there are certain people I can reach best by email and others that I really have to talk to on the phone.  Business owners that desire a personal connection with customers have to meet them where they are.  The old advice still works, whether it's in person, in your farmers' market, or some other venue: be engaging, be responsive, don't oversell your business or products, etc. (See for some tips on how to engage your audience on social media.)

The key takeaway is this: Use the tool that allows you to meet your audience how and where you need to meet them. Don't force them to find you on Facebook if they don't want to.  Likewise, get your business listed in Google Places if that's how they find businesses in an area.  This stuff isn't rocket science, is it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Surrounding Yourself With Excellence

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need a strong team behind you. But who should be on this team exactly? You need to surround yourself with people better than you. What do I mean by that? I mean you need to be able to identify excellence and immerse yourself in it!

Here are a few things to think about when your trying to find the right team members:

- Get educated on what you need. If you need a maintenance person to fix your farm equipment for example, learn a little maintenance yourself. With this knowledge, you can ask better interview questions and therefore weed out some of the applicants that actually don't know much about the topic.

- Come to terms with that fact that at times, things will go wrong. A great team member will be able to admit to mistakes and shake it off. Don't dwell on the negative (not you or the team member)!

- "Safe" leaves no opportunity for exploration. Excellent team members bring about change. You have to be OK with getting out of your comfort zone!

As an ag entrepreneur, what are some qualities you see in your most extraordinary team members? How have these team members helped your business grow?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do Consumers Recognize Their State's Promotional Branding Program?

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about state promotional branding programs. Researchers at Penn State surveyed mid-Atlantic consumers on their awareness of their state's promotional branding program and how (or if) that influenced their purchases. This study has provided a lot of great info that can't be covered in just one post!

Participants were asked to indicate if they were aware that their state had a promotional program. Participants who responded “Yes” (20% on average; 34.6% of New Jersey residents, 18.2% of New York residents, 15% of Pennsylvania residents, and 21% of Virginia residents) were then asked to select the correct name of their state’s promotional program or select the “don’t know” option. The programs featured in the survey included a) PA Preferred, b) Pride of NY, c) New Jersey Fresh, and d) Virginia Grown.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

In Figure 1, 50.8% of New Jersey residents selected the correct name for their state’s program (Jersey Fresh). In Figures 2,3, and 4, the correct promotional program for their state of residence was selected by 73.3% of Pennsylvania residents, 23.4% of New York residents, and 59.2% of Virginia residents.

Overall, New York residents who responded that they were aware that their states had a promotional program were the least likely to select the actual name for their program compared to residents of the other states. Additionally, slightly less than half of New Jersey residents, 42.3%, selected the incorrect name for their promotional program. Regarding the “don’t know” option presented, close to a quarter of participants residing in Pennsylvania (23.3%) and 37.5% of New York participants selected this option.

To read more about this topic, please see the press release.

As an ag business owner, do you use your state's branding program on your products? As a consumer, are you aware of your state's branding program? If so, does it affect your purchases?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Small Investments, Big Returns

In the article "10 Examples Of Great (Small) Investments For Small Business" by Annie Mueller, she describes some relatively cheap ways to help your business from staffing to marketing.

*Administrative help- "One of the most important investments that I've made was setting a budget to have office help. Although it was challenging to spend resources on hiring an administrator, the move turned out to be vital to the company's functioning. We have been more organized, more productive and I have had the time to think beyond the daily operations."

– Alexandra Mayler, founder of Thinking Caps Tutoring and author of "Tutor in a Book"

*Smart sponsorships- "I agreed to sponsor the state-wide gathering of the MCEEA (Michigan Career Educators and Employer Alliance). The price was right—only $300 for a Silver Sponsorship plus attendance and one year membership in the organization. It was a great investment! Not only was my name on the literature and all the PowerPoint presentations, but also I met great employers and candidate referrers at the conference."

– Adam Kaplan, Big Tent Jobs, LLC

*Tailor-made training- "We decided to invest in a more streamlined training program for our new employees. We created twenty 10-minute videos describing the different parts of our company, our procedures, and our history. The videos have been a big hit— our new hires love them, they save us time, and they guarantee that nothing slips through the cracks in our training program."

– Sander Daniels, Co-Founder of website,

*Buzz-worthy giveaways- "I've conducted giveaways of all sorts of products from T-shirts to electronics and have realized that I get the most bang for my buck through these sweepstakes...The better the prize, the more exposure. I've also given away an Xbox 360 and that received over 11,000 views and thousands of entries."

– Ismail Humet, Co-Founder of MyFreebeez

These are just of a few of the suggestions given in the article. As an ag entrepreneur, what kind of small investments have you made that have netted large returns? Have you or will you consider some of the above ideas?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do State Promotional Programs Actually Get Consumers to Buy?

More great research from the Penn State consumer purchasing behaviors study I talked about in multiple past posts. Mid-Atlantic consumers were surveyed on what factors may have affected their purchasing behaviors. One factor that may affect purchasing is state promotional plan branding. (The overall goals of these programs are to identify and promote the sale of fruits and vegetables and produce-based products within the corresponding state of the program. The programs featured in the survey included PA Preferred, Pride of NY, So Maryland, So Good, New Jersey Fresh, and Virginia Grown.)

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Overall, only 20% of survey participants indicated that they were aware that their state of residence had a promotional program. However, of those 62.8% (or 12.5% of all respondents) indicated that they had intentionally purchased fresh produce items that were branded according to their state’s promotional program. Figures 1 and 2 (above) show participant response to state program awareness and corresponding fresh produce purchasing behavior according to participant state of residence. Concerning state promotional program awareness, a significantly lower percentage of Maryland residents indicated that there were aware of their state promotional program compared to residents of all other states, while a significantly higher percentage of New Jersey residents indicated awareness of their state’s promotional program compared to residents of all other states (Figure 1).

Concerning the percentage of “state brand aware” participants who purchased produce banded under the guise of that state’s promotional program, a significantly higher percentage of New Jersey residents indicated they purchased these items compared to New York and Virginia residents, as well as a significantly higher percentage of Pennsylvania residents indicated they purchased these items compared to New York residents (Figure 2).

To read more about this study, please read the press release.

As an ag entrepreneur, are your products marked with your state's promotional brand? As a consumer, do you seek out products with your state's promotional brand?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's that Square? Using QR codes for marketing

Have you seen these black and white squares - on flyers, posters, labels, etc. - and wondered what they were?  They're QR codes, or quick response codes, a type of bar code that when scanned by a camera enabled smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) takes the user to linked content on the web, or activates email, IM, or SMS.  Essentially, it's a quick way of sending someone to content that you want them to see or getting them involved in communication without first having to get to a computer (by which time they may have forgotten).

The second image shows the QR code for PA MarketMaker.  Whenever someone scans the code they are taken to the homepage for PA MarketMaker (  For us, this is an easy way to show someone this marketing tool without being at a computer.

There are numerous potential marketing uses for QR codes including:
  • Take folks directly to a page for them to sign up for your email list
  • Link to coupons or special offers
  • Link directly to a product or event page that you're promoting
  • Take folks directly to a page with product information or uses
  • Creating a QR code that allows folks to remotely "like" your Facebook page (not your profile)
Places where QR codes could be used:
  • Your business card
  • Brochures, flyers, and other marketing materials
  • Sides of trucks and trailers or bumper stickers
  • Product labels/tags and packaging
  • Signs at your market or farmers' market stand
Creating your own QR code is relatively simple.  There are several free QR code generator sites that assist you in creating one.  A quick web search will lead you to them.  Reading QR codes is equally simple.  Smartphone users simply need to download a QR reader from their phone's app store or "marketplace."

While creating QR codes may be easy, don't go overboard in your use of them.  Just as with any other marketing tool, be strategic in how you implement their use.  Choose one or two high profile or important aspects of your business that you really want to get folks involved with or to get their input on.  Mix it up too.  Let's say that after a few months of using QR codes for a couple of things, say an annual Halloween Fest and a featured product, choose two new aspects of your business to highlight with a QR code.  This will keep people involved and interested.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sell your business as a story

As an ag entrepreneur, when someone asks you what you do and why, what is your answer? Example A: Do you say, "I own a coffee shop. I got into this business because I thought I could make a lot of money,"? It is an honest answer, but does it "sell" you as a business owner or your business? Probably not.

Statistics and facts are interesting, but not inspiring. To get potential customers to remember you and your business, make it memorable. Consumers buy not only on logic, but emotions too. They want to hear a story and will use that story to associate you as an entrepreneur with your business. The above example (Example A) doesn't help a potential customer differentiate you from any other business selling the same product or service. Your story can help that potential customer understand your beliefs and values and therefore have an emotional attachment to your business.

In the article "The CEO As Storyteller in Chief", Howard Schulz (Chairman of Starbucks) is discussed as a great storyteller. "He tells us the story of his trip to Milan and the passion for fresh, richly brewed espresso he discovered there and carried home with him. From that kind of simple story we--employees, customers, shareholders--derive meanings for everything a company does. The trouble Starbucks' coffee buyers go to to select the highest-quality beans from the remotest regions of the world, the care their brewers take--everything becomes romantic and fascinating, enticing us to stand in line as long as it takes to get our cup of coffee."

Doesn't Schulz's story sound a lot more enticing than Example A? Another great part of storytelling is the ease at which they can be spread. If you tell a good story, a customer is more likely to remember that story and spread it to other potential customers, and who doesn't love good word-of-mouth advertising?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Entrepreneurship" and "Individualism" Are Not Synonyms

So, what image comes to mind when you hear the word, "entrepreneur?"  For many, it conjures up images of a single person, AKA "the" entrepreneur, struggling against all odds to start a company.  This superhero image is still widely adopted.  Our superhero is able to develop new products, create financial projections to obtain loan or investment funding, navigate the obstacle course that local, state, and Federal laws and regulations bring, manage all finances, and everything else needed to make the business flourish.  It's hard work, but our superhero is up for the challenge.

Without exception, entrepreneurs can not do everything on their own.  The best ones don't even try.  This is true for all types of entrepreneurs: social entrepreneurs, corporate entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, serial entrepreneurs,... (I'm starting to feel like "Forrest Gump's" Bubba describing types of shrimp.)  Entrepreneurship happens in lots of different contexts and this point is relevant for each....

Entrepreneurship does not equal individualism.

True entrepreneurs use the resources that they control to make something happen.  (This generally means launching a new business or product.  For entrepreneurs that work within another business, even a university, this might mean moving a project along that furthers the organization's mission.)  Resources include money, for sure, but also labor, machinery, equipment, and other people's expertise.  We in Extension have contributed to many entrepreneurial ventures in agriculture and food, for example, by providing expertise on production, policies, business management, etc.  Entrepreneurs often visit Small Business Development Centers or other counselors for input.  They often have a team around them to help them see the things that would be overlooked if they worked on their own.

Even within an organization, including one like Penn State in which I work, we have a lot of leeway to be entrepreneurial.  The only difference is that we have to keep in mind that we do things under the Penn State brand and must operate within its guidelines.  Within that zone, though, we are free to behave as entrepreneurs.  I have zero doubt, though, that I'll not be as effective on my own as I would be as part of a team that is all rowing in the same direction.  At the end of the day, that's the entrepreneur's dilemma (or opportunity); how does one get all of those people rowing in the same direction?  It would be a lot easier if one could do it alone, but the entrepreneur's effectiveness drops precipitously if he or she tries.  Almost all university courses in entrepreneurship recognize and promote this fact by placing students into teams for class projects.

Truth be told, entrepreneurship works best when the individual puts "I" and "me" aside and turns it into "we" and "us."  The best entrepreneurs (remember, this refers to all types) connect with others to make their ideas better and to make their dreams a reality.  This mythical superhero just doesn't exist!  Myth... busted!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where do people in the mid-Atlantic buy their in-season produce?

In the past year, I've been writing about research conducted by Penn State on consumer purchasing behaviors in the mid-Atlantic. One of the research questions asked participants about where they buy in-season produce. Responses were grouped according to the metro area where participants lived (Richmond, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C., and Baltimore) and then tested against each other based on whether or not participants indicated that farmers’ markets/CSAs were their primary source of buying produce when in-season, versus choosing other places to buy (i.e. grocery, supercenter, warehouse, natural food store, etc.).

Overall, 29.3% of survey participants selected farmers’ markets/CSAs as their primary place to buy in-season produce. As shown in the graph below, a significantly lower percentage of D.C. participants, compared to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and N.Y.C., chose farmers’ markets/CSAs. Also,a significantly higher percentage of Philadelphia participants chose farmers’ markets/CSAs as their primary source of produce compared to N.Y.C. participants.

Local farmers and retailers growing and selling fruits and vegetables while they are in-season can use this data to get an idea of what percentage of total market share they may expect to achieve. As a mid-Atlantic farmer, have you tried to sell to these metropolitan areas? Why do you think DC has a lower percentage of respondents who shop primarily at farmers' markets/CSAs?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Get creative in financing your business expansion

Funding your business is no easy task. Banks are tighter than ever on loans, so how can you expand your business if you don't have the cash on hand to do so or you can't get a loan? Get creative! East End Brewing Co. in Pittsburgh, PA has started selling voucher books to gain capital for moving the brewery to a new facility.

Scott Smith, owner of East End Brewing, developed a program called the "Good Beer Investors". For $1000, you can buy $1000 worth of counterfeit-protected brewery vouchers which can be redeemed for beer and merchandise. With a goal of 100 investors, Smith had 54 investors as of July 7th.

To read more, click here.

As an ag entrepreneur, how difficult has it been to get financing? Would you ever try financing your business expansion with a program like "Good Beer Investors"?

Viewing the Charms of Nature, City Style

Summertime is in full swing; a great time to view what is growing. I took a day to visit farms and friends in Philadelphia and am thrilled how they are thriving. There are many urban farms models; some are non-profits with a mission to educate and serve the hungry, others are more of a business model intending to provide a source of income for an entrepreneur, others are a combination. On this unbearably hot July day, I saw all three versions.

My first stop was The SHARE Food Program garden. SHARE is a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. The gardens are on every possible piece of land around the massive warehouse located on Hunting Park Ave in Philadelphia. A nice surprise was to see a Penn State Extension’s High Tunnel right next to the TastyKake Factory. By the end of summer 2011 ten high tunnels will dot the city landscape helping to feed and educate a greener Philadelphia.

Penn State High Tunnel at Philly’s SHARE garden.

My next visit was to see our former intern who spent the 2007 season with us at Scarecrow Hill in Lancaster County. She told us she was planning to farm in Philadelphia, and by jove, she’s done it! The dreamy secret garden was an abandoned lot full of junk, including two ice-cream trucks when Amanda Staples and Matt McFarland purchased it in 2008. Now the ½ acre Germantown Kitchen Garden grows 30 crops which provides for an 8 family CSA and a farm stand which operates on Wednesdays afternoons at 215 E Penn St Philadelphia, PA 19144. A fun surprise was to see a former CSA shareholder of Scarecrow Hill stopping by the stand. Local has gotten a whole lot more local for this committed foodie.

Amanda at her farm stand, with lush urban farm in background.

My final stop of the day was at the Elkins Estate, Elkins Park, PA. This 42 acre oasis was rescued from demolition in 2009 by the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park Inc. Land, greenhouses and packing house are rented to Streamside Farm whose mission is to improve community access to healthy food and offering educational programming. The farm is run by Meei Ling Ng and her husband Larry Shaeffer. Their produce and beautiful flowers are sold at food co-ops and farmers markets in the Philadelphia area.

Philadelphia is really leading the way in urban farming. There are many more thriving urban farms to visit and buy from in the Philly region. To learn more, see links below:

I think you would be especially excited to see the Grumblethorpe, Teens 4 Good, and Schuylkill Center locations:

Written by Peggy Fogarty-Harnish

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do consumers know where their produce is grown?

Over the past few months, I've been posting about research done at Penn State on mid-Atlantic consumers and their purchasing habits. One of the most interesting questions (by my own beliefs) was in regard to what produce is not grown in the mid-Atlantic.

Responses for participants who answered that they did purchase products from farmers’ markets were then compared to responses for participants who answered that they did NOT purchase from farmers' markets. Of the non-farmers' market shoppers, responses were compared pertaining to participants’ belief of what particular fruits and vegetables (bananas, lettuce, apples, lemons, tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes, grapes and avocados) are NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region.

Figure 1 shows that more participants who shopped at farmers' markets were able to correctly identify which fruits and vegetables are NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region and fewer of these participants incorrectly selected produce that IS grown in the mid-Atlantic region. For example, a greater percentage of participants who purchased from farmers’ markets (82%) correctly selected bananas as being NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region compared to 74% of participants who reported not purchasing from farmers’ markets.

Read the full press release here.

Does this mean that people who shop at farmers' markets know what produce is grown in the mid-Atlantic because they see it at the farmers' market? This may be true, but approximately 20% of participants who shopped at farmers' markets indicated that fruits such as lemons, mangos, and avocados were grown in the mid-Atlantic region. It could be that they are attending farmers' markets that sell local and non-local items. This data may also mean that consumers simply don't know where their produce comes from. As an ag entrepreneur, this may be a great time to educate people as to what is fresh, local, and in season!

Friday, July 8, 2011

How can new and beginning farmers overcome overwhelming obstacles?

No one ever said farming was easy. Young and beginning farmers may face extra challenges too. These include high start up costs, availability of land, and cost of land, equipment, seed, livestock, feed, and fertilizer. Ben LaCross, 31, of Cedar, Michigan is a young farmer. He was interviewed by The Lempert Report on how he views these challenges. He states that, "The payout schedules for harvested crops can be spread out over the course of the following 12 months after harvest. That cash flow bottleneck makes it hard for anyone just to jump into farming."

Although these may seem like huge barriers, there are still opportunities for young and beginning farmer hopefuls to join the farming profession. Some young and beginning farmers are doing so by thinking of unique ways to solve these issues. Some examples:
-Working for a farm and gradually deferring salary for equity.
-Renting land and/or equipment from a retired farmer.
-Building a relationship with a farmer who is close to retirement and may be willing to sell you land at a fair price.
-Finding mentors to help you make difficult decisions and give advice.

If you are someone who has recently started farming, what barriers did you have to overcome to become a farmer? If you are someone who is a veteran farmer, what advice can you give to young and beginning farmers?

Horse Progress Days

The 18th Annual Horse Progress Days 2011 was held on July 1 & 2 in Kinzers, Lancaster County, PA, home of the highest concentration of horse drawn manufacturers and horse farmers in the world. For the first time, the event featured two full days of produce equipment demonstrations, and seminars about successfully growing and caring for produce. Penn State Educators played a vital role in the educational programming including Tim Elkner on “Diagnosing Plant Problems,” Steve Bogash on Use of Tissue Testing for Fertilizing,” and Jeff Graybill on “No Till Farming.”

The heart and soul of Horse Progress Days is the equipment demonstrations. Over the past several years the no-till movement has caught on within many of the plain communities. This is especially true of the Amish dairy and tobacco farmers. This trend has primarily seen growth in row crops such and corn and soybeans, but also alfalfa. Penn State Extension in Lancaster County was awarded a grant in 2007 to build a prototype no-till transplanter. The planter was designed and built by the Agronomy educator with input from several local Amish farmers. To date, three planters of this type have been constructed with approximately 300 acres of mostly tobacco, but also pumpkins, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have been planted no-till. The original unit was on display and demonstrated at Horse progress day.

Horse Progress Days’ Mission Statement is “To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support sustainable small scale farming and land stewardship. To show draft animal power is possible, practical and profitable.”

Agricultural and Penn State Extension Direct Marketing Specialists, Peggy Fogarty-Harnish and John Berry conducted two panels for folks interested in sustainable, local foods marketing as new opportunities arise for increasing farm profits. A Co-op Growers Panel on Friday afternoon featured three local cooperatives, Lancaster Vegetable Growers Cooperative, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and the newly formed Oasis at Bird-in-Hand all of which have provided new opportunities for produce growers in the county over the past few years. Saturday’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Grower’s Panel discussed ways for consumers to buy seasonal food directly from a farmer throughout the season by purchasing a weekly share. Experienced producers and managers shared their knowledge, discussed logistics and answered questions. Other Penn State displays included Farm Food Safety and Food Preservation.

In keeping with the theme of “Something for Everyone,” the event was one to bring the whole family. Children were especially happy to see the playground area and the petting zoo. Kay Moyer, Penn State Extension Farm Safety Specialist hosted a child safety area which was very busy with approximately 4,500 people visiting the hands-on activity stations. About 3,000 “I visited the Safety Area and Petting Zoo at Horse Progress Days” safety activity books were given to the children who attended. This twelve page culturally appropriate Anabaptist activity book was created to reinforce the education provided at the children safety area and included: machine safety, animal safety, Poison safety, and 911/emergency safety. The event was a great success with over 10,000 people attending each day. In 2012, the event will be held in Michigan.

Written by Peggy Fogarty-Harnish (

Friday, June 24, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 14

Continuing on with the Penn State study on Mid-Atlantic consumer purchasing habits, the researchers asked participants about their gender. Across four surveys, approximately 75% of participants who indicated that they were the primary food shopper for their household were female. Of these primary food shopper participants, they were also asked about where they shopped.

A total of 1,553 (Survey 1) and 1,518 (Survey 4) participants residing in metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond were surveyed. Data analysis revealed that a significantly greater percentage of female participants shopped at farmers’ markets (Survey 1; 71.7% of females vs. 65.5% of males) and selected farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms as their primary produce retailer (Survey 2; 36.4% of females vs. 30.4% of males), compared to male participants. Results are exemplified in Figures 1 & 2 below.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Press release

As an ag entrepreneur, do you find this data to be true? Are most of your customers female? Do you specifically market towards women? What kind of marketing do you do that is tailored to females?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exploring the Gluten-Free Market

In recent trips to the grocery store, you may have seen products labeled as “gluten-free” and you may be wondering what exactly that means.

According to Wikipedia, “A gluten-free diet is a diet free of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts and triticale. It is used as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent, often hidden under ‘dextrin’. A gluten-free diet is the only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease, the related condition dermatitis herpetiformis, and wheat allergy.” Celiac disease affects at least 1 in 133 Americans, states

Since people who are on a gluten-free diet cannot eat products made with wheat, rye, or barley, many products on grocery shelves are off limits. By selling gluten-free alternatives, food producers can tap into an emerging market. Datamonitor (a company specializing in data analysis for the retail and consumer packaged goods industries) reports that there is major growth in the gluten-free market. Global sales are expected to reach more than $4.3 billion within the next five years. The U.S. market is expected to grow by more than $500 million by 2014, which would make the United States 53% of the global market.

If you are a food producer, this emerging market may seem tempting. But you must do the appropriate research before moving into this (or any) marketplace. Gluten-free is not only a diet necessary for a digestive condition; people without digestive diseases are also moving into the gluten-free diet. This may mean a burst in the market place in a few years similar to the low-carb or Atkins diets. On the contrary, you might find in your research that the gluten-free market is solid based on the demand by celiac and wheat allergy sufferers. Datamonitor analyst Mark Whalley says, “Brands should focus on appealing to a broader audience to strengthen the long-term prospects of gluten-free food. However, they cannot lose sight of the fact that core consumers of the products will always be Celiacs, so relying on consumers outside of this demographic in the long term will prove to be a very risky strategy.” No one can tell you which way to go, but by performing adequate research, you can determine if the gluten-free marketplace (or any new marketplace) is right for you.

As an ag entrepreneur, do you currently sell any gluten-free products? If not, have your customers been asking for them? How easy/difficult would it be to offer a gluten-free product?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 13

In the last post, I discussed some Penn State research involving consumers' willingness to pay for organic produce. To continue on with that subject, the PSU researchers also studied the demographics of the survey respondents.

One question asked participants if they purchase certified-organic fruits and vegetables. Based on their response (yes or no), participants were then tested for any significant differences between demographic groups (metro area, gender, age, ethnicity, income level, education level, number of adults living in household and number of children living in household) to examine if certain consumer segments were more likely to report purchasing certified-organic produce.

Testing revealed that a significantly smaller percentage of participants with an annual income level below $25,000 purchased organic produce as compared to those with an income level of $100,000 or greater (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Also, a smaller percentage of participants age 21 to 24 reported purchasing organic produce compared to participants age 26 to 36 (Figure 2).

Figure 2

In addition, the data showed that a smaller percentage of participants who had received at most some high school education or were high school graduates purchased organic produce compared to participants with either an associate’s/technical school degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degrees or higher (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Click here to read the full press release.

As an ag entrepreneur selling (or not selling) organic produce, what does this mean for you? Would you change your marketing techniques to target people in these demographics? Do buyers of your organic produce fit these demographics? Is this data surprising to anyone?