Monday, March 28, 2011

Facebook Questions Allows for Even More Interaction

It seems like Facebook is releasing a lot of business-oriented features lately.  Well, Questions may not be strictly biz related, but it definitely has potential to help you engage with your followers and others.  For details from Facebook, check out this site.  I have been toying with it and can share the highlights.

Essentially, Questions allows you to ask a question of your followers.  (What did you expect?)  You can ask an open-ended question (one that can be answered in any way) or a poll question (one that has multiple responses that can be chosen).  If you ask a poll question, you have the option of allowing people to add responses or to be limited to those you have provided.  Additionally, a person can add a "post" about a question.  That is, they can leave a comment of any sort, similar to comments that can be added to status updates, pictures, or other types of content.

Once asked, the question goes first to your friends.  They can, of course, ignore it completely (and most probably will).  However, they have a few other options.  They could answer it, "follow" it, and/or "Ask a Friend."  If they answer it, then their friends can see that activity in their feed.  In that way, your question could go "viral" by spreading to others who also have the opportunity to answer the question.  If they follow it, it is also pushed out to their friends' feeds.  However, this also means that they will be able to see how their friends respond to the question.  If they "Ask a Friend," then the question is sent to those friends as a notification.

As a user, you can manage your questions by clicking on Questions in the left-hand menu.

So, how might this help a farm or food business?
  • Ask who may be coming to an upcoming event.
  • Ask what sorts of foods they like to buy from you.
  • Ask how often they use your product.  For example, a winery may want to know how frequently their customers drink wine.
  • Ask about how general economic conditions are affecting their purchasing.
Really, you could use this for anything you might want feedback about.  But, like most things, you should follow a few simple rules.

  1. Ask clear, concise questions.  Make sure the reader can understand what you're asking.
  2. Don't asking anything too personal.
  3. Don't be a pest by asking too many questions.
  4. Because it's SOCIAL media, be sure to respond to posts made about your question, if appropriate.
So, while Questions isn't earth-shaking, I think it does have some potential to enhance your ability to listen to your customers and their friends, and their friends, and...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 9

Continuing in the research done by Penn State on the topic of consumer purchasing behaviors, today's post is going to focus on snacking habits of survey respondents.

1,567 total participants from mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas were surveyed on what types of food products they purchased, where they purchased these products, and what factors may have affected their purchasing behaviors. Two particular questions asked participants to indicate from what types of retailers they primarily purchase snacks for themselves and members of their household, and also how many times they snack during an average day.

A majority of participants (64.5%) primarily purchased snacks for themselves and members of their household at grocery stores/supermarkets, with the next largest clusters of participants choosing to purchase snacks from supercenters (11.6%) and warehouse clubs (10.3%). Additionally, the majority of participants (70.4%) reported snacking 1-2 times per day on average, with another 17.5% reported snacking 3 times per day on average.

To read more about the research, check out the press release.

As an ag entrepreneur, how does this research affect you? Do you sell any of your products in easy-to-grab packaging? If you don't, would you consider making snack-size options available?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Collaborating with complementary businesses

I’m hopeful that spring is just around the corner in the mid-Atlantic and because of my optimism I’ve been thinking of what outdoor project we might tackle this year.  Along with making a list of supplies I’ll also need to make a list of retailers I need to visit to purchase everything I need – and hopefully I don’t forget anything on that master list.

Retailers have a natural fit in this plan and can certainly make shopping easier by taking the guess work out of what’s needed to complete a project.  For example, what does a customer need to recreate a display garden or outdoor seating area they see at a garden center?  Placing plant material used in the display garden next to the garden, for easy retrieval, is the first step but providing a check list of materials needed to complete the job would ensure that the customer is less likely to forget that they also need mulch, landscape fabric, etc. 

However, just because an ag business doesn’t sell upholstered patio furniture, grills, decking materials, or grills doesn’t restrict them from inviting complementary businesses to provide these items, brochures and pricing list, along with signage advertising the source (be sure to ask these businesses to reciprocate).  A garden center, retail nursery, or even landscaping company could then create a fully outfitted display garden intermingled with plant material, containers, fountains, and signs describing services available. 

Other ag businesses could take a similar approach.  Wineries, cheese shops, and on-farm markets could develop gift baskets using other local edible and non-edible products ( retail industry sources have indicated that gift basked have been big sellers for many establishments and most likely will continue to be popular for both holiday and non-holiday occasions).  Or, these retailers could showcase a local artist’s paintings, sculpture, etc.  Signage placed near items for sale could include a full list of the complementary business’s offerings or directions to the artist’s studio. 

Cross promotion shouldn’t be limited to just in-store.  Rather, consider promoting each others’ logos, websites, etc. on printed materials, talk about each others’ business on social media sites, and link to each others’ web pages.  These are just a few possibilities for cross promotion and even tapping into new customer pools.  Ag. businesses have been successful hosting events, contests, and sponsoring causes with complementary businesses.  Working together can be a win-win situation for ag businesses and the customers they serve. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Adapting flash sales website strategies to drive business to your site and store

Lately, I’ve been following numerous “flash sales” website sales and promotions.  The goal of a flash sale is to drive traffic to a website or store where a single product is offered for a deeply discounted price for a day or less, sometimes below a normal sales point.  An article in the February 2011 issue of Wines and Vines lists six flash wine sales websites that “offered 318 wines at average discount ranging from 53%” (  You can find numerous flash sales websites if you are looking for high-end fashion as well as daily deals on events and restaurant meals offered by sites such as

One of the main benefits for the producer/retailer is the potential to eliminate overstock while reducing the risk that consumers will question the quality of the retailer and product – because of the low promotional price.   By only offering the sale for one day it is believed that consumers will: 1) join a business’s email listserve, “like” them on Facebook, follow their Twitter feeds, etc., as these are common ways businesses alert consumers about flash sales; 2) buy items on impulse and focus on the great deal rather scrutinizing the brand/product quality because the item was so cheap; and 3) continue to be on the hunt for other “rare” deals the business offers.

Certainly, the majority of flash sales are promoted by bigger businesses and companies but it would be easy enough for a small or medium sized business to modify the idea.  I can think of several garden centers who desire to sell their annuals before summer.  The retailer could discount the plant material by 25%, followed by 50% and 75% towards the end of the season, but what if they do not all sell or just begin to look really bad?  By promoting a flash sale a bit earlier than the normal discounting period retailers may find a greater number of these plants sell within a very short period of time.  Benefits also include a reduced need to care for and water plants during the hot summer months and the potential for customers to purchase more than the flash sale item. 

Again, the key is to “surprise” customers, keep the duration of the flash sales short, have stock on hand, and discount products that consumers would have an interest in purchasing.  Don’t try to entice consumers to purchase stock that is destined for the compost pile or garbage – you just might lose their loyalty.      

Friday, March 4, 2011

Surveys of mid-Atlantic consumers conducted by Penn State researchers part 8

In previous posts, I discussed research from Penn State about mid-Atlantic consumer food preferences and purchasing behaviors. One particular question asked participants to indicate which category of retailers they believed were more likely to sell fruits and vegetables that are unsafe to eat.

This question brought about some interesting data. Although 30.7% of participants reported that they believed there was no difference in the safety of the produce based on the category of retailer, the remaining majority did indicate categories of retailers that they believed were likely to sell unsafe produce.

Looking at the graph, retailer categories like “Natural Food Store” (1.8%), “Specialty Food Store” (1.5%), and retailers where purchases could be made“Direct from Farmer” (2.4%) were reported to be more likely to sell unsafe produce. As an ag entrepreneur, why do you think consumers feel that natural food stores, specialty food stores, and direct from farmer are the "safest" foods?

As seen in data from previous surveys conducted in 2008, participant belief that a particular category of retailer sells produce that is more or less safe than other categories does not seem to be the deciding factor in where these participants actually purchase fruits and vegetables. Although participants in the previous survey, did (indirectly) report that retail outlets such as specialty food stores, farmer-direct retailers, and natural food stores were less likely to sell unsafe
produce in comparison to other retailer categories, the majority of participants did not choose to purchase fruits and vegetables from retailers they may have believed to have the "safest" produce. As an ag entrepreneur, how do you think you can move consumers to buy from the "safest" produce suppliers? What are your customers saying about this topic?