Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Choosing the Best Business Model for Today’s Farmers Market

By Juliette Enfield, Penn State Extension Educator, Warren Co

Many markets have rules and regulations for internal operations. While rules and regulations are important for setting guidelines for vendors at the market, they cannot be used when dealing with external business partners such as municipalities, businesses, or even customers.

According to the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, more and more farmers markets are becoming legally incorporated in order to function in today’s business environment. Markets have had to become incorporated to comply with municipal ordinances, such as the requirement that all special events provide a certificate of insurance should someone get injured. Markets have also had to become incorporated in order to accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards at the market.
More and more farmers markets are becoming incorporated in order to function in today's business environment.
The days of informal farmers markets are no more. We are entering into an age, whether we like it or not, where liability protection is essential. Many farmers markets in Pennsylvania are not recognized as entities by the Department of State or the IRS, and therefore all liability rests on the farmers or small business owners themselves. There are two options for farmers markets seeking liability protection:

1.       Find an organization that is willing to umbrella the market

2.       Create a legal entity for the market

Designing a Business Model that Works for Your Market

Step 1: Register the organization with the Department of State

As with any business, farmers markets can have variety of different business structures. Some markets are owned by a single individual. In a sole proprietorship structure, the vendors pay their dues to the market owner in order to participate in the market. The market owner is responsible for all market activities and is personally invested in the market’s success. If there is no sole proprietor for a market, an existing business may be willing to umbrella the market, which means they assume full ownership and responsibility for the market. In this case, the market operates under the umbrella business’ name. This is a successful model if the existing business’ mission is in line with the farmers’ market mission, such as promoting healthy eating or supporting local farmers. If there is no sole proprietor, and no organization that would like to own the market, incorporation is the only other option. If a market chooses to incorporate, they must choose a board of directors (a minimum of three people) to manage the market. Incorporation also requires bylaws and articles of incorporation to be filed with the Department of State. A lawyer should be consulted for this process.

Step 2: Decide your tax status with the IRS

Depending on the structure that the farmers market chooses, a market may be a for-profit business or a non-profit business. Non-profit businesses have the option to file for tax exempt status with the IRS, which means that state and federal tax will not have to be paid on income or expenses. There are two types of tax exempt codes most commonly used by incorporated farmers’ markets- 501c3 and 501c4. A 501c3 organization must provide a benefit to the community such as providing education or benefiting a charitable cause. A 501c4 is an organization that is created for “social welfare”, meaning that the organization has come together for the benefit of its members. If a farmers market exists solely for the benefit of the individual vendors, and is not providing any education to the community or supporting a charitable cause, their activities reflect the activities of a 501c4. While both 501c3 and 501c4’s can accept donations to the organization, only the 501c3’s donations are tax deductible to the donor. Once the tax status has been obtained, the organization must file a 990 form-“Return of Organization Exempt from Tax” every year to declare their earnings, and they must keep meeting minutes on file. Since tax exempt organizations’ records are in view of the public, operations should be well recorded and transparent. The cost to file as a 501c3 or 501c4 is $400 if the gross receipts do not exceed $10,000 per year during the first four years of operations. If the market is a non-profit and is not generating much income (only generates a small amount of revenue from vendor dues), requesting 501c3 or 501c4 status may not be necessary.

Does not pay tax
Does not pay tax
Cannot lobby
Can lobby
Donations are tax deductible
Donations are not tax deductible
Must engage in charitable or educational activities
Does not have to engage in charitable or educational activities
Cost to obtain is $400 (if gross receipts do not exceed $10,000)
Cost to obtain is $400 (if gross receipts do not exceed $10,000)

Advantages of Structuring the Market

Structuring the market is becoming an obligation; however, it is not without its advantages. If the market becomes a non-profit, they are able to apply for a wide variety of grants. If the market is able to process EBT transactions, sales will increase, as will accessibility of the market goods to a larger percentage of the population. Forming a board or having a market owner could reinvigorate a market, bring in new ideas, and expand business connections in the community, all of which should lead to greater profitability for the market.

The new board of directors for the Warren County Farmers Market, Inc.
Photo courtesy Rob Andersen, Warren Times Observer
There is no one size fits all structure for Farmers Markets. The circumstances affecting each market in each community are varied. For further assistance or expertise when creating your legal structure, contact the Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law. It is the lawyer’s job to think of all the potential problems that might arise in your new business structure, which will relieve the legal burden from you and allow you to focus on sales.

For more general information on non-profits, see my previous blog post An Agricultural Nonprofit Still Has to Make a Profit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Should You Consider Producing Flavored Milk?

By Sarah Cornelisse, Sr. Extension Associate, Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, Penn State University

As we move into the holiday season, we traditionally see an increase in the purchases of dairy products - cheese, milk, etc.  Eggnog tends to be the popular beverage at this time of year.  However, non-eggnog drinkers may be wishing for a festive alternative.  This is where developing flavored milks may be an alternative for dairy processes to consider.

For lovers of baseball, you may have seen Missouri's Shatto Dairy capializing on the successful playoff run by the Kansas City Royals.  Shatto Dairy produced a special edition french vanilla flavored, blue-colored milk (turned just blue-colored by the time the team made it to the World Series).

Shatto Dairy isn't alone in producing flavored milk.  As consumers turn away from soft drinks and sports drinks, many are returning to milk for its nutritious properties while expressing a desire for more varied flavors beyond the normal flavor and traditional flavors of chocolate and strawberry.  We now see flavors from grape to cotton candy to black cherry to banana and blueberry.

A 2014 Mintel survey showed that 61% of respondents agreed with the statement "Flavored dairy milk is a healthy alternative to soda."  Additionally, 39% of respondents indicated that they were interested in "sophisticated" flavors for milk such as hazelnut, dark chocolate, etc..  This interest was most pronounced with the Millennial generation, with 50% indicating such interest.  As consumer age increases, the interest in flavored milk decreased, with only 12% of those aged 69 and above interested in flavored milk.

For dairies that already bottle milk, flavored milk is something that they may want to consider as a way of drawing in younger consumers interested in a healthy, but flavorful, drink.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Farm Financial Management Course kicks off in Slippery Rock

By: Michelle Kowalewski, Penn State Extension Educator, Susquehanna County

This week Penn State Extension Educators kicked off their first session of Farm$en$e in Slippery Rock, Butler County for the 2015-16 program year.  

Farm$en$e is a four session workshop that teaches farmers how to understand financial statements such as the cash flow statement, the balance sheet, and the income statement.  Course participants will learn how to use financial records to make informed financial and production decisions.  These skills will strengthen the farm business partners.  All agricultural businesses including: Livestock, Dairy, Crops, Horticulture Operations including Orchards, Greenhouses, and Vegetable Operations can benefit from Farm$en$e. 

Farm$ense will be offered across Pennsylvania in five locations during 2015-16.  Locations and dates for the program are as follows:

Butler County (Registration Closed - Program In-Progress)
Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator
165 Elm Street, Slippery Rock
Tuesdays – November 3, 10, 17, 24
10 am – 3 pm

Adams County
Penn State Extension - Adams County
670 Old Harrisburg Road, Gettysburg
Fridays – January 9, 15, 22, 29
10 am – 3 pm

Mifflin County
Penn State Lewistown
152 E. Market Street, Lewistown
Thursdays – January 14, 21, 28, February 4
10 am – 3 pm

Lancaster County
Shady Maple Smorgasbord
Vintage 2 Meeting Room
129 Toddy Drive, East Earl
Thursdays – February 11, 18, 25, March 3
10 am – 3 pm

Bradford County
Stoll Natural Resources Center
200 Lake Road, Towanda
Thursdays – March 24, 31, April 7, 14
10 am – 3 pm

Pre-registration for the program is required online by clicking on the links above or by calling 877-489-1398.  The cost of the program is $225 per farm (limited to two individuals per farm, each additional person is $90/each).  Lunch is provided at all classes.

For participants of all four sessions who have drafted a set of financial statements for your farm this program satisfies the requirements for Pennsylvania borrowers of the USDA Farm Service Agency Borrower Training requirements for both production and financial modules.   Additionally, this program qualifies for four SmartStart credits from AgChoice Farm Credit  

For more information about Farm$en$e please contact Penn State Extension Educator Juliette Enfield at 814-563-9388 or

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"Mandatory" social media platforms for agricultural businesses

By Dr Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, and Dana Ollendyke, Extension Associate

Through an internet survey conducted by researchers at Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell, and New York University in 2013, 1,183 participants answered questions concerning their wine purchasing and consumption attitudes and behaviors and their demographic and socioeconomic status. Panelists were screened for being at least 21 years old, residing in one of the targeted mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania), and for having purchased and drank wine at least once within the previous year.

This survey may be focused on wineries, but the data collected can be of use to many agricultural business types. Marketing is an integral part of doing business.  Using social media to inform consumers about your products and events is an excellent way to build relationships.

John Gillespie, founder and CEO of Wine Opinions, a wine research company, stated in the article "Who’s Drinking Wine? A Look at the Wine Market Council’s Latest Survey" that 66% of core wine drinkers (those who drink wine at least once a week) and 40% of marginal wine drinkers (those who drink wine less frequently than once a week) use the internet to get information about wine. The article also said that more than half of all wine drinkers are on Facebook.

Consumers who participated in our internet survey were asked to select from a provided list of social media platforms they felt were mandatory for a winery to offer.  As you can see by Figure 1, Facebook is the significant front-runner.  Over 40% of participants believed that this social media tool is "mandatory" for a winery to implement.  Other platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube were significantly less important to respondents.

Figure 1. Social media platforms that survey respondents believed were "mandatory" for a winery to implement.

More information about the survey results can be viewed in the video series "Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Wine Purchases".

To learn more about social media marketing and the survey data, please see video 5 in the series.

As an agricultural business owner, what social media platforms do you use?  Which one(s) seems to drive the most interaction with your customers?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Is Your Business's Customer Service Philosophy?

 by Juliette Enfield, Penn State Extension Educator, Warren County

Although we give and receive customer service almost every day, we rarely take time to stop and think about what customer service means. Customer service does not come easily or naturally for most people. Providing good customer service is a skill that involves product knowledge, concern or empathy for the customer, readiness to help the customer, and knowing where to go to find answers. John Berry, Extension Educator in Lehigh County reinforces these ideas with a four step process for providing excellent customer service:
Be sure your employees know about the product they are selling.

      Know the Product

      Reach Out


      Be Alert

     Get Help
Customer service affects a business’s bottom line when there are many competitors. The fewer competitors, the less customer service matters, such as in the telephone and internet service provider industry. The more competitors, the more customer service matters, which is the case in the food industry. 
Another benefit to providing good customer service is the cost savings associated with customer retention. Losing one customer can have a domino effect on a business. The business from this customer is lost, but so is the business they could have brought to you, as well as the opportunity to change something that was not working well in your business. Remember these two rules of thumb: attracting new customers costs 5 times more than keeping existing customers, and 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers.

Taylor's Farm Market (which I recently visited on our Are You Crazy Retail Farm Market Bus Tour) in Inwood, West Virginia shares their customer service philosophy.
You may have protocols in place for handling returns, or complaints, but it’s the customer service philosophy that is portrayed in these actions. Consider what script(s) you want your employees to follow when providing good customer service. For example, Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester County, PA told me that for her, marketing is about having good relationships and providing good customer service.  She says she enjoys trying to guess what the customer wants. She believes that people don’t want to take advantage of you. She believes in treating people the way she would want to be treated. Sue says that if a customer is ever dissatisfied with her products, she is happy to exchange the product for a new one.
Below are some questions that can help start the customer service conversation at your business. I filled in some of my own reflections to get you started.
1. What is your business’s customer service philosophy?
We want people to feel that we care about them and their health by shopping with us.

2. What makes implementing this philosophy challenging?

Lack of sleep, not being able to relate to the customer-who may not have much awareness about agriculture, who may be from another culture, may make more money than I do, etc....
3. What works?

Not taking criticisms personally, offering services such as carrying heavy items, being honest...
4. What doesn’t work?

Apologizing when I don’t mean it...

5. What kind of customer service do you enjoy when shopping?

I like when the sales person is knowledgeable about the product, I also like when the sales person is not overly aggressive about making sales...

6. Does your business have a customer service training plan in place? Circle one.

Yes                                           No

Useful Books & Videos:
Carlaw, P. and Deming, V. The Big Book of Customer Service Training Games. McGraw-Hill. New York, NY. 1999. (This book is cheap to buy and has fun and educational training games that you could play with your employees)

Wicks, Judy. Good Morning, Beautiful Business. Chelsea Green Publishing. White River Junction, VT. 2013. (This book was featured at the Pennsylvania Women in Ag Network's Annual Symposium in 2013. Judy Wicks spoke about her inspiring business and customer service philosophy.)

Telephone Doctor® CUSTOMER SERVICE TRAINING, 30 Hollenberg Ct. St. Louis, MO 63044,(314) 291-1012, Fax: (314) 291-3710, E-mail:, (Purchasing these tools is not cheap but there are some sample materials on YouTube which are entertaining and educational)

The Learning Service, Ltd., 2800 Market Avenue North Canton, Ohio 44714, Phone: (330) 456-2422, Fax:(330) 456-8944, E-mail:, (This company has published several books on customer service which are listed on their website)

Sources for this blog:

Berry, John. I Seem to Have Lost a Customer Some Place! April 8, 2014. Agricultural Entrepreneurship Blog. <> Accessed Sept 9, 2015.

Lawrence, Alex. Five Customer Retention Tips for Entrepreneurs. Nov 1, 2012.
<> Accessed Sept 8, 2015.

Makovsky, Ken. Where Customer Service Doesn’t Matter. Jan 23, 2014. <>Accessed Sept 8, 2015.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Activities and Events Might Drive Customers to Your Tasting Room? Part 2

By Dr Kathy Kelley--Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, Abigail Miller--Master's student in the Penn State Plant Sciences Department, and Dana Ollendyke--Extension Associate

In part 1 of this series, we discussed survey results as to what activities and events respondents had the most interest. There are also other opportunities to make connections with local restaurants, cheese mongers, bakeries, chocolatiers, etc. For example, might one (or more) of these businesses create a small tasting plate that could be included in your “premier tasting option?” Or, could it be purchased separately for visitors to enjoy along with a glass of wine they purchase and consume at your tasting room? It is likely that some of your visitors would appreciate the opportunity to try a regional cheese with your wine.


Or, you could substitute the palate-cleansing crackers you provide to each taster with a few slices of bread from a local bakery. This is another great way to cross promote with other local businesses. While in Paris this last May, I participated in two separate tasting events at O-Chateau Wine Tasting & Wine Bar ( Along with a breakdown of what my tasting fee would include (five still French wines and one Champagne, a two-hour session with an English speaking sommelier, and a private tasting room for no more than 12 participants), the description also alerted me that not only would bread be included, but that I would be tasting baguettes from the bakery that supplies items for the president of France. Though some participants might not consider this as being a benefit or anything special, others might find it appealing.

With 70.2% of our participants responding that they would be interested in visiting a winery that offered “holiday events,” consider occasions that might be a good fit with your wine. Commonly celebrated holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, New Years, and religious holidays might come to mind quite easily, but don’t forget local holidays or events that may appeal to your tasting room visitors. For example, the neighborhood of Bloomfield (in Pittsburgh, PA) holds an annual Italian heritage festival called “Little Italy Days” ( A winery tasting room could partner with a local Italian bakery to pair wines with Italian pastries.

While a “painting party/class” and “book clubs” were of less interest to our participants, it is possible that such events and activities might still be of great interest to your visitors. As with any new marketing idea or change you make, it is essential to make sure that “it” is a good fit for your business, then trial “it,” and finally evaluate “it.”

Just a few things to think about as you plan your future winery tasting room activities and events. You may want to even consider planning an event to celebrate Wine Tourism Day on November 7th ( In its third year, the day is planned to encourage wine tourism businesses, including hotels and restaurants, to offer events as a way “to celebrate the importance (and fun) of wine tourism.” Another opportunity to raise your glass and celebrate!

Additional Research & Thesis Advisory Team Members:

• Jeffrey Hyde, Professor, Agricultural Economics, The Pennsylvania State University

• Denise Gardener, Extension Enologist, Department of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University

• Brad Rickard, Assistant Professor, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University

• Ramu Govindasamy, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Rutgers University

• Karl Storchmann, Clinical Professor, Economics Department, New York University; Managing Editor, Journal of Wine Economics

• Rob Crassweller, Professor, Professor of Tree Fruit, The Pennsylvania State


The project “Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region” (GRANT 11091317) is being funded by a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant, whose goal is “to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.” For more information about the program, visit

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Activities and Events Might Drive Customers to Your Tasting Room? Part 1

By Dr Kathy Kelley--Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, Abigail Miller-- Master's student in the Penn State Plant Sciences Department, and Dana Ollendyke-- Extension Associate

In 2014, researchers at Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell, and New York University collaborated on a wine marketing study funded by the USDA. Data were collected through a 15-minute Internet survey (22-24 October 2014). Participants residing in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were screened for not being a member of the wine industry, being at least 21 years old, and for having purchased and drank wine at least once within the previous year. A total of 977 participants qualified and completed the survey.

With approximately “81% of [Pennsylvania wine] sold directly from wineries” (, one of the issues we investigated in last year’s survey was what a winery could offer to encourage winery tasting room visits and increase the frequency of these visits.  While, in some cases, we investigated broad categories and factors, we have plans to delve deeper in an upcoming survey to see what could motivate consumers to visit a winery tasting room and barriers survey participants feel prevents them from visiting.

Interest in winery activities and events

Today’s visitors do much more than just taste the wine at a tasting room; rather, there are opportunities to tour the vineyard and the wine-making facility, participate in classes, attend festivals, and much more (

But should a winery go through the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating an event or activity?

Data from a study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University and Sam Houston University showed that, for Texas wineries, there was “a positive correlation between wineries that offer services such as tasting rooms and tours and gross sales… [thus] the more tourism services a winery offers, the higher their potential for gross sales” (,

OK, so, with all that could be offered – what activities and/or events might garner the greatest consumer interest?

Though not an exhaustive list, we focused on activities and events that were more commonly found when we investigated wineries online and also based on popular press articles. As an example, an event that has been offered at some wineries and restaurants is a “Paint Nite,” during which attendees paint a certain picture by following an instructor while enjoying wine or other alcoholic beverages (for example, We were interested in learning if this activity appealed to our participants, and, if so, how much. Below is a table with data pertaining to the level of interest our participants expressed based on the seven activities/events that we tested.

As you can see, “tasting events,” “tour of the winery and vineyard,” and “food vendors from local restaurants,” were the three activities that had the highest level of interest (86.3%, 83.0%, and 78.9%, respectively), and are often interdependent of each other.

It makes sense that if someone is going to visit a winery tasting room that they would be interested in tasting the wine, but there are opportunities to offer “tasting events” that go a beyond the norm – perhaps they could be based on a theme, focus on your new release, be an exclusive tasting with limited seating, or your winery tasting room could be one of the stops on a local food tour.

And, although separate categories in our survey, winery tastings and tours are a natural pairing. Most likely you already offer a tour and subsequent tasting, but can you take your standard tour and split it up into several? The goal of this strategy would be to encourage even more frequent visits.

Château Élan Winery & Resort located in Atlanta, GA offers six different tour options, five are private and one is offered on a regular basis. While all six tours end in a tasting, each is unique with a different focus ( The private tours focuses on each of the following: 1) the vat room, 2) the wine making process, 3) the vineyard, 4) an experience with the wine maker, and 5) a session on other Georgia food products.

More data on winery activities and events will be discussed in part 2 of this series.

Additional Research and Thesis Advisory Team Members:

• Jeffrey Hyde, Professor, Agricultural Economics, The Pennsylvania State University

• Denise Gardener, Extension Enologist, Department of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University

• Brad Rickard, Assistant Professor, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University

• Ramu Govindasamy, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Rutgers University

• Karl Storchmann, Clinical Professor, Economics Department, New York University; Managing Editor, Journal of Wine Economics

• Rob Crassweller, Professor, Professor of Tree Fruit, The Pennsylvania State


The project “Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region” (GRANT 11091317) is being funded by a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant, whose goal is “to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.” For more information about the program, visit

Friday, August 28, 2015

Looking at Yogurt Trends: Emerging Flavors and Styles

by Sarah Cornelisse, Sr. Extension Associate, Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Penn State University

 Yogurt continues to enjoy strong consumer interest and demand.  Retail sales are expected to continue to grow, though at a slower pace than years past; with sales from 2013 to 2014 showing an increase of 3.3% compared to an 11.3% increase from 2010 to 2011.  Spoonable yogurt continues to dominate yogurt sales, at 93% market share, with consumers saying they are turned off from drinkable yogurts by the thick texture.  However, yogurt drinks are still expected to see an 8% sales growth in 2015 (Mintel). 


While sweet fruit flavored yogurts will likely to remain dominant, savory, herbal, and floral flavors are emerging in the marketplace.  Blue Hill produces a line of savory flavored yogurt that includes carrot, parsnip, and butternut squash.  Other new flavors on the market include green tea, rose petal, cucumber mint, and savory shallots.

For the past few years, Greek style yogurt has been in a growth stage.  Having now reached near maturity, new styles are entering the marketplace, enticing customers to try something new and different, yet the same.  French, Bulgarian, Australian, and Icelandic are some of these "new" styles.  As reported by research firm Mintel, one Icelandic yogurt brand experienced a 110% growth in sales from May 2014 to May 2015.

This is an exciting time in the yogurt industry, both for consumers and producers.  Farmstead and small processors have a great opportunity to carve out a niche and generate a consumer following by exploring these emerging trends.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What is Cause Marketing? Part 3

By Dr Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, and Dana Ollendyke, Extension Associate

This post will continue to outline some of the important topics to consider in deciding if a cause marketing plan is right for your business. (Post 1 and Post 2 in this series have been published in previous weeks.)

Promote that you are also accepting donations
In addition to selling a product or two where the proceeds go directly to support the cause, let customers know that they can also donate funds to the cause.  You, as the business owner, may assume that consumers would automatically understand that there is more than one way to support a cause; however, it may not occur to consumers that they can make a donation in place of making a purchase.

Involve customers in selecting the cause
Two separate strategies can be used to involve consumers in selecting the cause:
  • ask consumers to nominate a cause and then vote on the one that will receive all the donations.
  • allow consumers to choose from a group of causes that would receive the donations.
This second technique is what ONEHOPE Wine has embraced. The brand donates half of all profits to a list of causes including: Cure Alzheimer’s Disease, Support Our Veterans, Save Our Planet, and several others. Each wine is associated with a specific cause. In Image 1, you can see that half of the profits for the 2009 Santa Barbara Reserve Chardonnay helps fund research to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease.

Image 1.  Bottle of OneHope wine that benefits research to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease.

Involve employees
Finally, employees should be asked to do more than just collect donations or indicate what purchases support the cause.  Involve them in the process of selecting the cause and associated administration needed to support events or activities.  The more employees support the effort, the more likely they are to alert customers that your business is involved in collecting donations to help those in difficult situations.

As with any new marketing program, it is very important to DO YOUR RESEARCH to determine if this is the right path for your business. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

What is Cause Marketing? Part 2

By Dr Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, and Dana Ollendyke, Extension Associate

The first installment in this series can be found here.
With so many local, national, and international causes already being supported by your customers’ generosity, how can you compete with them and the businesses that sponsor them?  Consider the following, which could help bolster your cause marketing program.

Make sure that the donation process is transparent  
For each dollar that you collect, you need to show how and where these funds were distributed. Consumers who do not see any progress associated with the money they donated may very well choose not to donate anymore.  Be sure to indicate on your website, in your promotional activities, and in-store that money collected helps to do great things.

Consider a cause that has a natural connection with your business  
Perhaps a member of your business has suffered from a disease that could benefit from a donation.  If this is the case, ask him or her to be the “face” of the effort. In the Wharton Business School article "To Increase Charitable Appeal to the Heart-- Not the Head", it describes how consumers are more likely to donate to a cause if “presented with a personal case of an identifiable victim” through pictures and stories, “something that purely engages the emotional system”.

For example, we can all probably think of at least one product that dons a pink ribbon in honor of breast cancer research.  One of the businesses that does so is J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines.  The winery actually began partnering with cause organizers due to a family member’s breast cancer fight.  Founder Jerry Lohr lost his wife, Carol, in 2008 and through sales of both J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, the company had a 2014 goal of “providing over 4,000 mammograms to women who would otherwise be unable to afford them”. Certainly, the cause is worthy enough, but by associating a name, story, and image of Carol Lohr, we begin to associate the brand with a real family – not just a business.

Image 1.  Screenshot of the J. Lohr Vineyards website that details their mission to provide mammograms to women in need.
blog photo 3

Or perhaps there is an environmental issue that greatly impacts your city/state/region. Sales from Crimson Pinot Noir, produced by Ata Rangi Vineyard (Martinborough, New Zealand) supports Project Crimson, “to protect and renew our spectacular red-flowering rata and pohutukawa – New Zealand’s iconic native ‘Christmas trees’.” Not only can consumers support the cause by purchasing this wine (Image 2), they can also purchase Northern Rata trees and plant them on their own property (Image 3).

Image 2.  Label showcasing the partnership with Project Crimson.
blog photo 1Image 3.  Sign advertising the sale of the rare Rata photo 2

More considerations on creating a cause marketing program to follow in part 3 of this series!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What is Cause Marketing? Part 1

By Dr Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, and Dana Ollendyke, Extension Associate

Have you seen advertisements like the one below (Image 1) where a portion of the profits benefits a charity or cause?  The official definition of cause marketing from is "joint funding and promotional strategy in which a firm's sales are linked (and a percentage of the sales revenue is donated) to a charity or other public cause.  However, unlike philanthropy, money spent in cause-related marketing is considered an expense is expected to show a return."
Image 1. With every purchase of this tea, Teavana will donate $1 to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation.

Although profits should not be the primary reason for building a cause marketing program into your promotional plan, it is suggested that consumers “feel good” about spending their money on goods that support a cause.  In 2013, Cone Communications (a public relations and marketing agency) released their Social Impact Study.  Some interesting take-aways from that study include:
  • Over half (54%) of U.S. consumers “bought a product associated with a cause” during a 12-month period ending in fall 2013, which was a 170% increase from 1993.
  • A majority of consumers (91%) want “even more of the products and services they use to support [a] cause, and 88% want “to hear how companies are supporting social and environmental issues”.
  • If you are looking to better connect with Millennial consumers via social media, they are more likely to “use social media to engage with companies around [causes]” than the general population, 64% vs. 51%, respectively.
This data is just the beginning of your research into determining if cause marketing is right for your business.  

Our next post will focus on cause marketing program development.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Crowdfunding: An Exciting New Way to Fund a Project

By Juliette Enfield, Penn State Extension Educator, Warren Co.

The success of any business depends on the crowd that supports it.
Crowdfunding captures the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit-that anything is possible. The size and scope of the projects on crowdfunding sites are awe inspiring. In 2012, the JOBS –Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the Obama Administration.  This Act eliminated certain restrictions on how new startup businesses could be funded. Since 2012, crowdfunding has become a term that many people are familiar with, but may not have direct experience with. Have you ever considered crowdfunding for your business? Perhaps you are uncomfortable with the high interest rates that may be incurred with a loan, or maybe your credit isn’t the best and you are unable to access a loan in the first place. Crowdfunding can work in a few different ways. Investors can support a new business by buying a share in the business (equity crowdfunding), making donations (donation crowdfunding), or lending money (debt crowdfunding). According to, there are over 500 crowdfunding platforms online, so even if you understand the basic fundamentals of how crowdfunding works, you will need to do some research to find a site that will work well for you. Some sites have stronger reputations than others, and some have easier access to customer service. Also, many crowdfunding sites specialize in a certain type of project or industry. For example, Quirky specializes in funding inventions of new everyday tools, Crowdrise specializes in charitable projects, and GiveForward specializes in funding medical expenses for people will illness. Another difference among crowdfunding sites is how and when payments are received for a project. For example, Kickstarter only accepts payments from investors if the project has been funded, and Indiegogo accepts payments from investors regardless of whether or not a certain goal has been reached. Crowdfunding sites charge a fee ranging from 7-12% of the total project cost, so this may also influence your decision of which platform to use.

Crowdfunding for Farm and Food Businesses

Birchrun Hills Farm, a dairy farm and cheese business in Chester County, PA successfully funded a project to build a new cheese cave on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a popular donation based crowdfunding website. Kickstarter projects include film, music, art, design, technology, and food. I spoke with Sue Miller, Birchrun Hills Farm business owner, about her experience with Kickstarter. She chose Kickstarter because of the recognition of the site, she liked the all or nothing philosophy of the site, and the fees were reasonable. She also knew of other farm businesses that had success with the site, including North Mountain Pastures in Newport, PA, a meat CSA farm with a charcuterie business. Sue ran a 30 day campaign in December 2014. For different donation levels, Sue offered a variety of different prizes ranging from a hat with the farm logo on it to private cheese and beverage pairing parties. She said the most popular prize she offered was the chance to name a newborn calf on the farm. Sue estimated that less than 5% of the people that were reached about the campaign actually donated. Therefore, the campaign period is an intense marketing time, and having a marketing strategy and a budget in place is essential. Sue said she was delighted to see how the community supported her project, and now that the campaign is over and she is building her new cheese cave, crowdfunding has helped her expand her business network in the region and across the nation. For those thinking about embarking on a crowdfunding endeavor,  Sue recommend that they work for a year or so prior to the campaign period to expand their social media network, since this is the primary way crowdfunding campaigns are advertised. She also said that next time she might consider hiring someone to run the campaign for her, so that she would not have to run the farm and the campaign at the same time. You can still view Sue’s campaign on Kickstarter.

What would you like to do next with your business?

Another crowdfunding site that agricultural businesses should know about is Kiva Zip. Kiva Zip is a debt based crowdfunding site that offers 0% interest loans to funded projects. Kiva was first created to help finance microloans to farmers and small businesses in developing countries, but it has recently grown in popularity in the US with small and beginning farmers. Kiva loans are especially well adapted to new farm and food businesses because the loans are small, from $5,000 to $10,000, and are therefore less risky. Once the money is lent, the business has 3 years to repay the loan. The Kiva fundraising process has three tiers. First, the agricultural businesses must be endorsed by a Trustee, a business or an individual (non-family member) that will vouch for the character of a borrower. Then, once the Trustee is in place, a network of friends and family (ranging from 10-30 contacts) must be the primary lenders to the project. This occurs during the first 15 days that the campaign is launched. And finally, after this primary network has lent to the project, the project is opened for anyone to lend. Kiva projects are live for 45 days. Emily Keebler, Kiva City Pittsburgh Lead, says that the first 15 days of fundraising is the most intense fundraising period. Emily says that many businesses that have a successful lending experience with Kiva Zip then become Trustees themselves for another business, and these small amounts of money continue to support small businesses over and over again. Healcrest Urban Farms, a farm that grows herbs and small fruits in Pittsburgh, PA successfully received a loan on Kiva Zip to pay for the use of a shared kitchen and purchase of an ice cream cart to start their popsicle business, TeaPops. Good Work Farms, LLC, a vegetable farm in Emmaus, PA received a loan on Kiva Zip to purchase draft horses for plowing and lowering energy costs on their farm. BEEBOY Honey, a beekeeper in Pittsburgh received a loan to purchase more hives and a truck for honey deliveries. Kiva Zip may be an option for your food business if you decide that offering rewards for donations may be too much of a challenge and you would rather spend your time and energy repaying a small loan.

Be sure to do your research before choosing your crowdfunding platform. Spend time looking at the projects that are out there. Create a budget, marketing plan, and a clear, concise message about what you are trying to accomplish. Have you had any experience with crowdfunding? Share your comments and suggestions with us!

Sources for this blog:

Caldbeck, Ryan. Crowdfunding Trends: Which Crowdfunding Sites Will Survive. June 23, 2013. <> Accessed July 8, 2015.

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. Funding Opportunities. June 2014. <>  Accessed July 8, 2015.

Pollack, Bridget. The Ins and Outs of Alternative Financing. U.S. Small Business Administration Blog. June 4, 2015. <>Accessed July 8, 2015.