Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do Your Products Meet Your Customers' Values?

by Brian Moyer, Program Assistant, Lehigh Co.

Many times when we introduce our products to the marketplace,we don't always think about how our potential customers will view the product.  We may know how special our new product is, but how do we get that information to our customers?  An example might be trying to sell freezer beef in the local "Penny-Pincher" paper.  Most of that readership are looking for inexpensive purchases and might not respond well to the purchase price of a quarter or half of a beef.  On the other side, if your goal is to be the lowest priced sweet corn producer, an up-scale farmers' market might now be your best outlet.  Those customers might view your product as lower quality simply because you are offering a lower price than your competitors.  In both cases, neither is a good product-place match.

How surveyed consumers were categorized
based on their involvement in "sustainability."
The Hartman Group, who specialize in researching and understanding how consumer attitudes and behaviors lead to purchases, surveyed consumers about their involvement in "sustainability."  They identified four categories - reflected in the image to the right.  The "core" are those who are very involved (recycle, purchase local food, conserve energy, etc.).  The "periphery" reflects those who do not necessarily go out of their way to follow any kind of sustainable practices.

Notice the kind of language these groups use to reflect what they value or what is important to them when making purchases.  Words such as "transparency," "greater good," and "authenticity" are the values of the "core" and "inner mid-level" groups.  It's very similar to the language of the local food movement, so if you believe your product would be beneficial to this group, then think about where they might make their purchases or get their information and center your marketing efforts and materials on their values and shopping habits.
Values expressed by those surveyed regarding
their involvement in "sustainability"

"Price," "convenience," and "comparability" are words that are used here by the "periphery" group and most closely resemble what we might see in box stores and grocery stores.  If your product's benefits meet those customer needs then you will need to capture this group where they get their information and where they shop.

Now, think about where you think your product falls in here and does your promotional materials and language reflect that of the group of consumers you are trying to reach.  Let's say you raise grass-fed beef.  Maybe your customer base will lie within the "core" and "inner mid-level" group of consumers who are interested in a sustainable lifestyle and would most likely purchase your beef products.  You need to show how authentic your products are and that your values of farming reflect their values when making food purchases.

How some consumers may prefer to envision their
beef - "faceless" - yet still knowing how they were raised.
The picture to the right demonstrates some of those values that the customer may envision when purchasing your grass-fed beef.  The customer wants a high quality eating experience from beef raised on beautiful pastures.  The one thing you will notice missing from this ad is pictures of cows.  We as farmers are greatly interested in our animals, but the customer may not be.

Whether we share the same values as our customers isn't as important as making sure our products do.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"In Market" - Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market Season

by Brian Moyer, Program Assistant, Lehigh Co.

In my great-grandfather's diary of his farming activities, you will find entries for most Saturdays that say "in market."  One can imagine what it took in the late 1800's to get ready to be "in market."  It might be a bit easier to get to market today, but anyone who sells at a four-hour once-a-week farmers' market can tell you, the preparation takes much longer.  Winter is usually the time for planning the growing season.  But, as we all know, growing it means we also need to sell it - so winter is also a good time for planning our market season.

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), farmers' markets have grown by 3.6% from 2012 numbers of 7,864 to 8,144 in 2013.  Pennsylvania has seen a 30% growth in the number of farmers' markets across the state since 2010.  The opportunity this presents is that farmers basically have their pick of markets they want to participate in.  That also means that the customer also has their pick of what markets they wish to patronize.  Market patrons will want to buy from vendors who's products appear to be clean, high quality, clearly priced, and with attractive displays.  You can greatly increase your market day bottom line by taking some time to evaluate how you plan to sell your products at the farmers' market.

Here are some things customers (and market managers) will expect to see from you:

  • Signage: Clean, colorful, and consistent signage is a must.  Customers do not want to have to ask you the price of your produce.  Customers are already making an effort to step outside of their shopping routine to come to the market and purchase something.  Don't make them work any harder than they have to.  Signs should have:
    • Clear hand writing
    • Price
    • Name of the item
    • What's special or different about it.  Is it an heirloom variety? Special flavor? Hot, mild, or sweet?
    • A white board or chalk board is a nice and simple way to let folks know what is in season this week or what is on special

  • Canopy: Have a good quality canopy and always use it, even on good weather days.  A clean canopy looks professional.  It is your "store."  It also helps keep your products clean and cool which will go a long way in maintaining the quality people expect to find at a farmers' market.
  • Displays: Rule number one; no products on the ground! No one really wishes to purchase food that sat on the ground, even if it is in lugs or boxes. Set them on something.  The general rule is, displays should be between knee high and shoulder high.  Give some though to how you will draw customers into your booth space.  Once they are there, how do you want them to move through your booth?  Say you have a ten foot by twenty foot space and you are selling produce. Maybe you will want to locate your register at one end so they will have to pass by every item you have to offer.  You may want to place staple items like sweet corn, tomatoes, and potatoes at one end with more "impulse" purchase items closer to the checkout area.  One last item, make sure to keep your displays looking full as items sell throughout the market day.  If an item no longer fits in a bushel basket, make sure you have some smaller containers with you so you can transfer the remaining items to the smaller container to maintain that "full" appearance.
  • Tell Your Story: One of the attractions at a farmers' market is you, the farmer.  More and more consumers want to know where their food is coming from and the people who grow it.  Some things to consider using to help you tell your story are:
    • Framed poster board with photos of your farm
    • A logo that is on all your signage and farm sign
    • Brochures that tell your farm story
    • Copies of any good articles that were written about your farm
Last, but not least, make sure you have all your permits that you many need to sell at market.  Depending on what items you are selling, you might be required to have a permit from the local, county, or state health department (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture).  To find out what, if any, requirements you will need to follow, go to  There you will find downloadable documents and requirements for selling at farmers' markets.

It is well worth taking time now to have all these items in place so you will be ready for your market when the season begins rather than trying to get all your market items and permits together one week before the market opens.  Waiting until the last minute may delay your ability to go to market if you have to wait for your permit.  Needless to say, you will also miss a lost of sales!

"Prepared for market" was usually the Friday entry in my great-grandfather's diary.  If you take the time and do your preparation, your "in market" experience can be even more rewarding.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When Business Plans "Take on a Life"

by Winifred McGee, Extension Educator, Dauphin Co.

At the Food for Profit workshop last week, I talked about researching and writing a business plan (as opposed to the "mental plan" for which many entrepreneurs settle).  After listening to me for a number of minutes, one of the participants asked: "How long should you plan? Couldn't trying to create "the perfect, complete plan" keep you from ever starting your business?"  What a good question!

Planning ahead is great -
but you need to get off the ladder to live!
Since my days as a Small Business Development Center consultant, I have believed that having written goals, objectives and strategies is essential for having a successful business.  However, writing the plan is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you want to have more than a "great novel," you have to progress from planning to action!  In Extension's food and farm business planning class, Your Future in Focus, we discuss 4 M's: Mapping, Move, Monitor and Modify.  The idea is, while having a plan is a great thing, it is not an end in itself.  The planning process includes a regular checkup of results, evaluation of the business' health, and revision where warranted.  Those other three M's are just as important as the initial mapping process to have a vibrant venture.

The SBA Blog Spot has a great article by Tim Berry, Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and that addresses this very subject.  Mr. Berry says that the assumptions in our plans can change very quickly in today's world, so we should see a business plan as a tool that we manage while running the business.  He suggests the following steps:

First, do a plan that has concrete specifics you can track.  Include not just the obvious numbers for sales, costs, and expenses, but also other manageable numbers like web traffic, visits, leads, presentations, calls, downloads, likes, mentions, updates, and whatever else drives your business.

Second, set a regular schedule for reviewing plan vs. actual results.  Have a monthly task to look at progress and identify problems.

Third, learn to distinguish problems of execution from changed assumptions.  If assumptions have changed, then the plan should change.... Usually, unexpectedly good results are a good reason to look at shifting resources towards the positive; unexpectedly bad results are a good reason to shift resources to correct a problem.

So, should you have a plan? Yes - absolutely.  Should business planning BE your venture? Not at all!  To do that would be similar to opening the promotional materials for a cruise, reading them, looking at the pictures and saying "Now I've been to the Bahamas!"  If we really wanted to see the Bahamas, we'd read the literature, talk to others who have visited there, contact a travel agent, and get a great wardrobe to wear on-ship as preliminaries - the point is to get on the boat!  And, having taken the trip, consider what you'd do differently in future trips.  In much the same way, business planning is not the end, but only a means, to a great (ad)venture.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Retail Produce Marketing is About!

by John Berry, Extension Educator, Lehigh Co.

The incentive to consider retail marketing is obvious.  The closer you can get to retail customers, the more retail dollars go in your pocket.  However, it's not all profits.  If you sell retail, you will be providing services the wholesalers, packagers, distributors, and retailers typically provide.  As we approach another fresh produce marketing season, let's review some of the key details of operating a direct-to-consumer marketing enterprise.

Visual Display
Proper presentation of products increases sales.  Shoppers receive a positive impression if products are top quality, clean, and tastefully displayed.  Remember that high-quality products are the strength of produce markets!

A lively, well-stocked produce department entices the customer to buy and increases sales and profits.  Think of yourself as an artist, with several palettes of colors to choose from: visual - color, contrast, shape, size; smell - herbs, fruits; and touch - soft or firm.

Make displays that look like they came from the farm.  Wooden crates or boxes work well.  Baskets are beautiful; slant them toward the customer.  Even an attractive tablecloth can add to your sales.  Stair stepped displays create an array of depth, color, and texture; however, they may not be easy for the customer to reach or easy to restock.  Utilize vertical space by hanging products from slings or hangers.

"Pile it high and kiss it good-bye!"  Full, well-stocked displays make customers want to come back and get it.  Customers don't like taking the last of something from a bare, picked-over display; they want to choose the best.  Remember to not overstock to prevent the risk of crushing tender items on the bottom.

Make it easy for the customers to reach for the produce.  Your display should be no more than an arm's reach in depth, and between knee and waist level in height.  Don't put your merchandise on the ground.  Instead of placing your boxes flat, try slanting your produce to give the customer a more pleasing visual sense of your product.

Excellent example of using color and texture with a wide
product mix.  Everything I need to make a delicious side
dish for my dinner.
Organize products in related groupings.  Such groups might include dessert items, salad items, cooking vegetables, apples and pears.  Displaying compatible products together serves as a suggestion for additional purchases and uses of the products.

Research shows the use of color and texture greatly enhances eye appeal.  People enjoy food with their senses, so displays that are eye appealing tend to increase purchases.  Mix a row of radishes between the mustard and kale, tomatoes between the lettuce and cucumbers, or intersperse peaches with blueberries to create dazzling color displays.

Suggested good color groupings:
  • Red and yellow or green
  • Light green with yellow or purple
  • Dark green with red, orange or yellow
If you don't have a lot of variety, create a color mixture with flowers or signs.

Price Signs
Prices should be clearly marked.  Most shoppers are in a hurry and will not search out the manager to find out how much something costs.  Include a few product features and perhaps menu suggestions on signs to stimulate your buyers' thoughts on how to use the item.

Great use of limited sign space to describe the product itself,
how to store at home, and possible uses.
Final Thoughts
Restock displays frequently, rotate products as needed, and remove damaged, decayed, or unsaleable products promptly.  Unsightly produce left on your stand not only detracts from sales, but it leaves the customer with the notion that you sell rotten produce.  If you'd buy it, leave it; if not, pull it out.