Sunday, December 23, 2012

What's New in Ag Business Education? (part 2)

In last week's post, I talked about 2 of the educational opportunities available for future or current farm and food business owners.  Below you will find 2 more classes we offer in our class catalog. 

Estimating & Bidding for Landscape Installation  
Allentown, PA

Preliminary Day - January 15, 2013 (9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.)
This session is for newer businesses or owner-operators who have not established a confident bidding procedure. Designed to be a preliminary day to cover the very basics including terminology and the different types of estimates. The pitfalls of some common bidding practices will be discussed. Explore production rates in depth, including why you need to know what they are for your business and how to find them. Discuss profit and reasonable returns. There will be opportunity to ask questions and discuss bidding with other contractors.

 Nuts and Bolts - January 16 & 17, 2013 (9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.)
This is a two day intensive workshop to determine the overhead of a business and create a bid. This workshop is for businesses who want to be sure they are including all overhead costs in their calculations and fine-tune their bidding procedure. The first day we will work through an Excel spreadsheet to figure overhead costs. Each participant will receive an electronic copy of this spreadsheet so they can adapt it and use it for their own business. The second day we will create a bid for a small hardscape and plant installation job in detail, using the overhead costs determined in the first day of the class.

For more info or to register, please visit the registration page.

Annie’s Project  
January 15, 2013 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in Gettysburg, PA

This national Cooperative Extension program is an 8 session class that empowers women in farming to manage information systems used in critical decision making, and to build local net-works of like-minded friends.  The sessions focus on all five areas of Risk Management – Production, Market, Financial, Legal, and Human Resources, and combine a short educational presentation by a Penn State Extension educator, class discussion, individual and small group activities, and guest speaker(s) who share the day-to-day application of proven risk management techniques and strategies. Several sessions will be held in a computer lab for participants to gain hands-on skills with software applicable to farm information systems.

By the final session, participants will have begun writing business risk management plans for their farms, and applying action steps that have been discussed in class, to daily operations.

For more info or to register, please visit the registration page

More educational opportunities to come in future blog posts!  As always, please check the Ag Entrepreneurship Calendar for all event listings.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's New in Ag Business Education? (part 1)

Did you know that Penn State Extension regularly holds classes on a multitude of different business topics?  Classes range from beginner (those just starting to think about creating an ag business) to advanced (those who are veteran business owners thinking about succession planning).  Below is a brief description of just a few of the courses Penn State Extension will be offering in early 2013.

Social Media Boot Camp for Ag Businesses 

During this 2-day boot camp, we'll discuss the basics of several tools such as Twitter and Facebook and get you thinking about their strategic use.

The first day of the workshop will be spent in a computer lab where you will begin developing your Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, and Yelp pages.

On the second day you will develop social media goals and objectives, a strategy for achieving those, and be introduced to tools for measuring and analyzing your social media impact.  You’ll also hear from a farmer on their use of social media tools.

For more info, please visit the program page.

Your Future in Focus 
Sessions will be held on Mondays between January 14 and March 11, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in York, PA

This 8 session class empowers farming and food entrepreneurs to build a business plan for their venture – whether a start-up or a long-established business.

As a member of the Your Future in Focus class, you will consider appropriate business structure, actively pursue goal-setting, build a strategy for marketing your products/services, and gain skill in the development/analysis of financial documents – all steps that lead toward writing a complete business plan. As the weeks progress, experienced instructors will guide you through the process of business and risk management planning, providing feedback throughout the course. Most important, you will receive training and support needed to produce a draft written business plan – the key business risk management tool that can be used both for daily management decision making, and as well as serve as a proposal for start-up or expansion funding.

For more info and to register, please visit the registration page

I'll be talking more about our other class offerings next week.  You can also view entire the Penn State Extension Ag Entrepreneurship Team's calendar now on our website

If you see a class you want to attend but not in a location near you, don't fret!  Let us know on our Facebook page and we will try to schedule a class near you.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hot Sauce is Hot in 2013! How Demographics Help Mold Food Trends

Fellow blogger Sarah Cornelisse recently tweeted a link to an article on the biggest trends in business in 2013.  One of the trends included the popularity of hot sauces.  Hot sauce production is one of the 10 fastest-growing industries in the US reports IBISWorld, an industry analysis firm.

Why is the hot sauce industry expanding so much?  Both Dave DeWitt (producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbeque Show) and IBISWorld point to the increasing popularity of international foods.  In the article, they illustrate the increased sales of hot sauces.  "Research firm Mintel reports that sales of sauces and marinades--including hot sauces--jumped 20 percent between 2005 and 2010 and are expected to increase another 19 percent by 2015."

An article on also discusses the popularity of spicy flavors.  In 2011,  the “Packaged Facts Food Shopper Insights Survey” showed that 53% of U.S. grocery shoppers “somewhat” or “strongly” agree they “like hot and spicy foods" with a percentage rise to 58% among Gen Y (born 1977-1994)  adults.  The article also says that, "The same survey revealed that a majority of adult shoppers seeking global foods purchase Mexican and Chinese/Japanese flavored items. However, a larger percentage of Gen Y adults than adult shoppers in general seek out Indian/South Central Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. This indicates a broad interest in global flavors of all kinds."

By knowing your target audience, you can develop the best marketing plan for your product.  For example, the  “Packaged Facts Food Shopper Insights Survey” showed  that 58 % of Gen Y respondents "like hot and spicy foods".  By looking at demographic information on, you could find where the highest concentration of Gen Y adults are in Pennsylvania (see Figure 1).  Thus, you can target the release of your product in areas where your audience is most highly concentrated.  

Figure 1.  Population concentration of 19 to 24 year olds in Pennsylvania.

Check out the Resources tab on for more information on using demographics in developing your marketing plan as well as relevant industry information.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Promo Prices--When is Enough Enough?

Everyone loves a sale, right?  This might be your strategy for getting customers into your store, but can you have too many promotions?

In a Supermarket Guru article from earlier this year, frequent promotions and more consistent pricing strategies are explored.  Seventy-six percent of retailers are sending more price changes to stores in 2012 as compared to 2011 shows research from Retail Systems Research (RSR).  With these numerous price changes, it seems retailers are promoting a hyper-promotional environment.  

Why is this happening?  Retailers were surveyed by RSR and the findings show:

  • Increased price sensitivity of consumers (67%, up from 58% in 2011 and 46% in 2010).
  • Increased pricing aggressiveness from competitors (51%, up from 48% in 2011 and 38% in 2010).
  • Increased price transparency—the impact of comparative price shopping (47%, up from 40% in 2011 and 11% in 2010).
  • Need to protect our brand’s price image (42%, up from 38% in 2011 and 28% in 2010).
  • Need to provide consistency in price across channels (27%, down from 32% in 2011 but up from 6% in 2010).
One outcome the article describes is that " 41% of retailer executives surveyed say their companies have become more promotions-driven in 2012, up from 31% who said this in 2010; only 12% focus more on everyday low prices, the findings show...Yet among retail winners (with comp-store sales growth in excess of 3% annually, says RSR), the simple discounting of high-low pricing (38%) and Everyday Low Pricing (25%) are the primary pricing levers. Only retailers classified as losers (annual comp-store sales growth under 3%) used a hyper-promotional strategy (18%)."  The survey didn't explore beyond pricing and promotions, so a hyper-promotional strategy isn't the only reason these stores might be considered "losers".  It is also important to think about what services, assortments, convenience, and expertise your store offers.  

Learn more about the 4 P's (Pricing, Promotion, Product, and Placement) in the Resource Center of or in the Value-Added Marketing Series section of the Penn State Farm Business Management page.

As an agricultural entrepreneur, do you run promotions?  How often?  How do your customers respond to promotions?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter is a Great Time to Make Your Social Media Plan

Winter provides farm and food business owners the opportunity to reflect on the year past while planning for the coming year.  While you are planning planting and/or production quantities and schedules, updating financial records, attending professional development events, and evaluating marketing outlets, consider developing your social media presence and strategy as well.   And if you are using social media, remember that your presence shouldn't go into hibernation even though the ground outside may be covered with snow.

Don't let your social media presence go 
into hibernation, like this bear, 
during the winter months.
I read this article yesterday that provides a timely reminder about the importance of creating a social media strategy and maintaining your presence year-round.  The author also provides a couple of helpful tips:
  • Plan a schedule of topics for posts during the coming year.
  • Use scheduling tools offered with many social media tools to pre-load content.
If you have an active social media presence during the growing and selling seasons, you want to maintain that visibility during the off-season.  Followers unfamiliar with farming and food production may be interested in learning about what goes on "behind-the-scenes" that makes what is visible, and easily shared during the summer months, happen.  You can easily recruit followers to provide their input for decisions and options you're weighing.  Larger packages vs. individual servings? Heirloom tomatoes vs. standard breeds? Which new products to offer? Ask! Read about how one farm marketer did just this.

Interested in creating a social media presence for your business or jump starting your existing presence with a social media strategy?  Check out Penn State Extension's Social Media Boot Camps for Ag Businesses.  Registration for the first two ends on Dec. 3, 2012.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

$250,000 Millionaires

Guest Editorial by Dr. James Beierlein

In this year's presidential campaign, there was a great deal of talk about taxing the rich guys - the so called $250,000 millionaires.  As is normally the case, there is more to this statement. Let's look at this a little deeper.

The U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate (Federal rate of 35 percent) in the world. Most of the major economic powers have a corporate tax rate in the range of 20-25 percent, with some places like Ireland having a rate of 11 percent.  It is easy to see why our corporations look to locate overseas.

Source: CNN Money
Tax rates have an impact on the legal structure that firms adopt.  This is why many small businesses operate as small business corporations (often called Sub-chapter C firms).  By doing this, they gain all the benefits of being a corporation, such as limited liability for the owners and having things like health care be a tax deductible expense.  Also, the owners can elect to have the profits from these firms taxed at lower personal income tax rates rather than the corporate rate (35%).

Small businesses generate around 70 percent of all the new jobs in economy and, usually, are the birthplace for most innovations.  These firms are the winners and the ones that kept us competitive.  With an average profit rate (5 percent), a firm would need sales of just $5 million to reach this $250,000 threshold. Keeping a heavy tax burden on these employment generators does not make economic sense, especially during an economic slump.  But, I was always taught that being a millionaire started with a million dollars, not $250,000.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pinterest Secret Boards - Make Use of Them for Your Business

Pinterest recently unveiled their newest feature - secret boards.  Here are a few pieces of information about secret boards and how you can make use of them in your business.
  • You can have up to three of these secret boards (in addition to your public boards). 
  • You can not make an existing board secret. 
  • You can make a secret board public, but you cannot change it back to secret status.
  • Only the creator of the secret board can make it public.
  • Other people see your secret board through invitations you send allowing them to contribute to the board.
  • There does not appear to be a limit on the number of invitations you can send to make people contributors to a secret board.

If you have a business where you deal with clients and need to show them pictures of things you are discussing (flowers, designs, packaging, labels, etc.) or even need a central place to archive links to articles and other online information (provided it's pin-able), these new secret boards may be a valuable tool to enhancing customer relationships and improving communication. 

A secret Pinterest board could also be handy as a tool for internal communication, idea sharing, and brainstorming.  Since original photos can be pinned, you, your family members, employees, or anyone you want to get involved, could pin photos of things they see away from the business to spark discussions or for future planning.

Since you can only have up to three secret boards at a time, managing your use of them will be important.  You can delete boards as you complete projects, allowing you to create a new secret board.  Your other option is to simply add and remove contributors.

For more information about Pinterest's secret boards, click here.  We invite you to visit our Pinterest boards here.  Do you think secret Pinterest boards will help you in your business?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Learning a Little Bit About the PA MarketMaker Partners (part 3)

So far, I've given some background information on 4 of the 9 organizations that have partnered with PA MarketMaker to bring MarketMaker to Pennsylvania and to help their members join the MarketMaker network.  Below, I will describe 2 more of these organizations.

Retail Farm Market Association 

The mission of the Retail Farm Market Association is to benefit members through education, promotion, cooperation, and representation of Pennsylvania Direct to Consumer Agricultural Marketing.

The objectives of the Retail Farm Market Association (PaFarm) are three-fold:

1. Communication.  To facilitate the exchange of ideas and improve communication and linkages among members of the industry in Pennsylvania State and nationally.  To represent and communicate the interests of the industry to government, Cooperative Extension, other agencies and associations, and to the consumer.
2. Education.  Help industry members improve marketing techniques through dissemination of information through industry networks, Cooperative Extension, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and an annual Direct Marketing Conference, and encourage support and direct research and educational programs relating to the direct marketing of farm products.
3. Promotion.  Promote the establishment and expansion of farm direct marketing operations in Pennsylvania.  Encourage and carry out promotional activities to increase consumer awareness of the Pennsylvania farm direct marketing industry.

Membership to PaFarm is free and open to anyone interested in direct-to-consumer farm marketing.  

Fair Food (  

Fair Food started with the narrow focus of connecting farmers and chefs as a strategy for keeping more farmland in production and now works with a broad range of buyers as well as hundreds of producers, from the small-scale diversified farmer to midsize growers who supply colleges, hospitals, and other institutions.

Over the past ten years, Fair Food has built demand for local food across all sectors of the food system. Along with their partners in the field, their work has created a paradigm shift in the public’s perception about what eating by shining a spotlight on the men and women who grow food.

Fair Food promotes the importance of family farms and creates a year-round marketplace for fresh, local and humane food products in the Greater Philadelphia region. They do so by providing an assortment of programs and services that contribute to a strong and sustainable local food system.

Are you a member of either one of these organizations?  How have they helped you market your products or learn about your industry?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Don't Get Left in the Cold. Use Social Media to Connect with Your Customers!

With sixty-five percent (65%) of internet users using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and others (Pew Internet, 2011), social media can justifiably be considered a legitimate marketing tool by businesses large and small.  In fact, in a survey by Chief Marketer, 92% of respondents indicated that they either were using or planned to use social media for marketing of their brands.

Farmers and small ag business owners shouldn't overlook the power that social media tools provide in connecting with consumers.  Surveys conducted by two of my colleagues, Kathy Kelley and Jeff Hyde, in May 2010 with consumers who used social media, found that over 30% of respondents expected farmers' market/on-farm markets and U-Pick operations to have Facebook presence.  Consumers' expected use of Twitter and blogs by these types of ag businesses hovered around 20%.  I would expect that surveyed again two and a half years later, we would see these results, or expectations, to be higher yet.

Consumers' Expected Internet Presence by Type of Food Business

But having a social media presence, or profile, on any of these tools isn't enough.  You need to provide consumers with a reason to "like" or follow your business.  When questioned on why they connect with businesses on social media, approximately 60% of the individuals responding to Kelley and Hyde's survey indicated that they did so to learn about new products/direction of the business, while almost half wanted to learn about sales before the general public.

Expectations by Consumers who Follow Businesses on Social Networks

We see that the evidence exists that consumers expect ag and food businesses to exist on social networks, as well as to provide them with things that they value in return for following them.  You probably also have your own reasons, or objectives, for committing to developing and sustaining a social media presence for your business.  By developing a social media strategy, you can ensure that you, and your followers, get what you need from a social media relationship.

If you own, or are involved with, a farm or small ag business in Pennsylvania, and want to jump into the world of social media with a guiding hand, Penn State Extension can help.  Come to one of three scheduled Social Media Boot Camps for Ag Businesses.  These two-day workshops will give you a hands-on opportunity to develop Facebook, Twitter, and foursquare/Yelp profiles, as well as mapping out your personal social media marketing objectives and strategy.