Direct farm marketing is a preferred business because of the flexibility and economic returns it provides. Direct farm marketing lets producers become price setters, selling “products”; as opposed to being price takers, selling “commodities”. Direct marketing provides farmers interaction with their customers. Through direct interaction, farmers can adjust their product lines for specific consumers demand. This is known as market driven agricultural production.
There are a number of direct marketing options available. A farmer will need to decide whether to market live animals, carcasses, or retail cuts. It is common for farmers to be involved in many different forms of direct marketing. The factors mentioned below will all need to be considered when making this decision:
- the products available for sale,
- a farmer’s location relative to the people who will buy the products,
- the processing options available,
- the farmer’s time available for marketing relative to the time spent on production,
- the cost which may be assumed,
- the level of customer interaction required by each market option,
- the risks the farmer is willing to be accept,
- the level of support from the local community.
Direct Marketing Live Animals
Direct on-farm marketing of smaller livestock such as sheep, goats, and rabbits can be time consuming and stressful depending on how many of its inherent responsibilities a farmer ends up assuming. However, it is also a great chance to meet new folks and learn about a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups. Producers can market their animals directly to the end consumer either through 1) on-farm sales where customers come to the farm and pick out an animal, or 2) the “freezer trade” where a customer orders an animal to be picked out for them and delivered to a slaughterhouse for slaughter and processing according to their cutting instructions. These channels work well for farm families who enjoy dealing with numerous customers one-on-one and meeting new cultures. In all cases, farm liability is necessary.
Live Animal Markets
In some regions near high concentrations of ethnic populations, there are live animal markets. These markets are not to be confused with auctions. Rather, these are retail businesses where direct consumers can go and view penned animals, make their pick, and have the animal slaughtered at an on-site custom slaughterhouse. Because they take ownership of the animal prior to slaughter, the animal does not have to be slaughtered in a USDA federally inspected plant. Instead, the animals are slaughtered under the “custom exemption” in the federal code, which provides that the owner of an animal does not have to have the carcass federally inspected if the meat is going directly back to the owner’s household for consumption. The meat is stamped “not for resale” and then bagged for the customer to take home. Several sheep and goat farms in New York operate as “live animal market”. They have custom exempt slaughter and meat processing facilities on site. Often they use these facilities to process white tail deer during the hunting season.
Initially a producer will need to advertise and actively seek clientele. It is a good idea to have the slaughter animals separated from the breeding stock or to have an easy way for customers to identify which is which. Posting prices and sticking with them will help cut down on time spent attempting to bargain. Farmers will need to decide if they are able and/or willing to be involved in the slaughter process at all or if customers are simply going to pick up their animal and be on their way.
If the plan is to be involved in the slaughter process, check with the state to find out the state regulations on 1) allowing customers to slaughter on-farm, and/or 2) transporting purchased animals to a custom slaughterhouse for a customer. Some states have stricter interpretations of the “custom exemption” than the federal code and require that only the person “who has raised the animal” qualify as the owner. Some states allow a customer who has purchased an animal to slaughter the goat at their own premises but not on the producer’s farm. If there are any questions about state requirements on this topic ask for a printed copy of the regulation and a layperson’s interpretation of it. It is also a good idea to find out how other nearby producers handle these transactions.
In New York it is permissible for a farmer to let a consumer come to the farm and to pick out an animal which will be butchered immediately on the farm. It is also permissible for farmers to take an order from a direct consumer and to then select out an animal for the customer and deliver that animal to a custom or USDA butcher for them. The farmer must keep impeccable records of the transaction including the consumer’s name and address for each animal delivered. Ownership of the animal can be split among multiple consumers.
If a farmer allows for on-farm slaughter, it is critical that the farmer not help in the slaughter process in any way. Farmers may only permit the new owner the right to slaughter the animal on their land. It is helpful to have an area where the carcasses can be hung, potable water, and a sanitary, legal way to dispose of any offal. Disposal of blood and offal must not pollute any water sources or conflict with local ordinances. It is best to check with officials to ensure disposal is done in accordance with any local regulations.
In states such as New York where composting of offal is legal, many farms opt to compost the offal in a high carbon material such as wood chips. On farm livestock composting activities in New York do not require solid waste permits and are exempt from DEC regulations. Jean Bonhotal at the Solid Waste Management Center at Cornell University (http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/) can provide the current recommended procedures for dealing with on-farm disposal of offal. Other options are to provide a pre-dug trench or pay a rendering company to pick up offal.
A customer, who purchases a live animal for his or her own personal use, is a freezer trade consumer. Freezer trade customers after purchasing the live animal have it sent for slaughtering and processing, with many deciding to have the animal butchered at a custom slaughterhouse.
Freezer trade customers may purchase the animal by the head or by live weight. Processing and transportation costs may be added to the cost, but it is recommended that the customer pay the processor directly. It is important that customers understand how much meat they can expect and how the retail cuts will be distributed. Providing forms that allow the customer to choose how they want the meat processed can help. Ethnic customers using animals for curry dishes may want the carcass processed into 1 ½-inch chunks of meat and bone on a band saw, while other customers may want roasts, chops, steaks with the remainder deboned for either stew or ground meat.
A farmer selling meat, rather than the slaughter animal, is not considered conducting freezer trade and is required to follow other regulations. In the case of red meat, amenable livestock such as sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle must be slaughtered and inspected at a USDA slaughterhouse and processed at either a USDA facility or 20-C commercial kitchen depending on the end buyer.
Community Supported Agriculture
Farmers first offered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares in 1985, revolutionizing direct marketing possibilities for small-scale farmers. Typical CSAs provides vegetables to a group of customers who have paid a “subscription fee” in exchange for receipt of a share of farm product, each week throughout the “season”. Subscribers assume some of the risk for a small harvest, but many are willing to do so in exchange for knowing exactly where their food comes from, how it was raised, and the farmer who raised it.
Offering meat as a CSA share or in partnership with a CSA farm, presents marketing and processing alternatives to livestock raisers. Farmers might use the CSA subscription base to attract freezer trade customers, allowing for use of a custom exempt facility. Individuals of the CSA can get together and decide to “share” an animal that they purchase from the farmer, but it is up to these individuals to ensure that the portions are “equal”. Those farmers with USDA inspected retail cuts might set up a stand where the CSA pick-up is scheduled.
Still other producers have decided to offer meat and poultry as part of the CSA share itself. A farmer who secures subscriptions in the early spring can have the cash on hand to purchase feeder animals in time for the grass flush, and the peace of mind of knowing that the animals have already been sold.
Farmers offering meat shares may have pre-designed splits, and therefore, they are able to describe how much of each cut will be in a box based on a 4-person or 6-person share for example. Others have creatively offered high-end shares (with steaks and tenderloins) and low-end shares (of stew and ground). Some shares are multi-species and farmers are able to offer meat and poultry when it’s the freshest; like lambs in spring, chickens in the summer and beef in late fall and winter
Farmers who operate large CSAs caution those considering this venture not to underestimate the time needed to maintain continued contact with CSA customers. Other problems arise with CSAs; the biggest concern is if a CSA member goes on vacation and therefore does not pick up his/her share. Farmers are not allowed to restock left-behind-product and must instead donate it to food kitchens or eat it themselves.
The issue of who actually produces the animal or the products in question is not a primary consideration. The main concern in insuring the safety of the products being marketed and protecting the consumers from food safety risks and misbranded and adulterated products. To the extent that producers try to circumvent or avoid inspection requirements or other food safety rules that apply to their meat and meat products, creating the potential for public health risks, they can expect government officials to enforce the rules.
There are many CSA types and contracts and each would need to be read carefully and thoroughly to determine exactly the risks and entitlements of the shareholder. In most true-to-form CSAs, the burden of risk is shared equally between the producer and the consumer. However, if the CSA contract states that the shareholder does not legally own the animal in any way, then custom cutting options are not available legally to either party.
A farmer might opt to form a cooperative. In this case the financial transaction does not involve the purchasing of end product in advance like a CSA arrangement, but rather the money is used to purchase a share of the farm business, which includes not only the live animals but also the obligation to participate in the management and operation of the farm business. In this way, a cooperative shareholder may be required to participate in the care and feeding of the animals, and/or on-farm slaughtering of animals he/she owns. Product from animals slaughtered under this arrangement are not eligible for sale, but must be designated for personal consumption. Liability and other risks are of concern and should be addressed in the written cooperative agreement. Specific rental or insurance requirements may be necessary.
Contract Raising of Livestock
Contract raising is when a business contracts with individual producers to raise meat animals for them. The producers generally follow specific management protocols required by the business in order to insure that animals from different farms will yield a consistent product. In some cases, the business supplies the animals and even the feed.
Contract raising is used primarily by large agri-business corporations with large agri-business growing houses. Depending on the contract, the burden of risk is often shouldered by the growing house (or producer) up until the animals are delivered to the slaughtering facility. As most far exceed the legal threshold for small-scale production, the delivery typically takes place to a USDA plant often owned and operated by the corporation itself. An example of this arrangement is the poultry industry. Agri-business corporation giants, Purdue and Tyson, often contract with large grow-out houses. These growers then deliver the finished birds to Purdue or Tyson owned and operated USDA inspected plants. This gives the agri-business vertical integration advantages without all of the risks.
Live market auctions are an easy way to market live animals. A farmer generally expends almost no effort in finding a buyer and in return, they are guaranteed timely payment by a bonded entity. Of course, farmers will also have no control over the price they may receive. It may be a good idea to seek out larger regional sales or graded holiday sales where more buyers are likely to compete for the animals presented. Auctions do require that animals be identified individually. For example, sheep and goats must have official scrapie ear tags or tattoos.
Farmers should review past market reports for a particular auction. Animals may be sold by the head or by the pound, and this may vary by species. Sometimes prices are reported for an “estimated weight range” because the animals are really being sold by the head. Make a commitment to call the sale barn manager in advance to get their advice on best date to come and gauge their enthusiasm for the product offered. If possible, farmers should use the auction to introduce themselves directly to the buyers. This means staying for the bidding and talking to the bidders. Farmers should be prepared with business cards to hand out. Farmers looking for future buyers should converse with the buyers, and let them know if more animals are available and when. Payment based on live weight could be part of the discussion.
Retailing the Cuts
Sometimes farmers are confused about the difference between retail and wholesale marketing of meat. When marketing to a retail outlet directly the farmer becomes a wholesaler. Another example of wholesale marketing is when selling to another wholesaler who then sells product to a retailer. Still another example of wholesale marketing is when a food broker handles the sales between the supplier and another wholesaler who then deals directly with the retailer is. A distributor is a business that handles the transportation of the finished product from one physical location to another but generally does not facilitate contracts between buyers and sellers. If a farmer sells his/her product to a retail store or wholesaler either directly or via a distributor, then they are also selling wholesale rather than retail. In these cases, refer back to the previous chapter on wholesale marketing.
Retail Markets: From the farm stand to the upscale grocery store
A farmer may chose to operate a retail market himself or market his products to a non-related retail outlet. Retail outlets can range from the very simple to the very elaborate. When selling meat in a retail outlet this can be anything from a freezer separate from the family’s on the back porch, to an upscale, gourmet grocery. Retail outlets tend to be fixed physical locations, although selling from a freezer truck, which is regularly parked at a specific location, may be considered a retail outlet. The best example of this type of outlet is a parked freezer truck offering fresh fish for sale. At this type of outlet, there are no other vendors and the market is not run on public property or by a public authority.
Local zoning must be consulted before starting a retail outlet to ensure that the operation of such does not violate any local, county, or state zoning or planning ordinance. In addition, some municipalities have strict signage requirements on the number, placement, size, or type of sign allowable. The products requiring tax collection as well as the tax rate may differ from county to county. Anyone operating a retail operate must contact their local and county health departments.
Retail sales of meat in New York require that cuts of amenable red meat and value added products be USDA inspected. Non-amenable meat and meat products must be either USDA inspected or processed at a New York State Department of Agriculture and Market Licensed 5-A facility where it is labeled with an Article 5-A Exemption Claim. Determination of which facility used is determined by the ingredients used to manufacture the product.
If a farmer sells meats from animals not raised herself, she will need a 20-C retail license. If there is any further processing of the meat a producer receives from a USDA inspected or NY State licensed slaughterhouse, then a 20-C license is needed. If eggs, dairy, or cheese is sold in addition to meat, then NYSDAM requires a 20-C license. If a farmer is simply selling meat from animals that they raised and had appropriately inspected in addition to selling baked goods, jams, jellies and other non-hazardous products then this license is not need.
Back porch/ Classic Farm-stand
Roadside stands and on-farm outlets are not considered by NYSDAM to be “retail food stores”, rather, they are considered and extension of the farm. As such, these market outlets are not required to meet the strict sanitary guidelines required by regular retail food stores or food processing establishments. Such stands and on-farm outlets are permitted to sell farm-produced foods such as fresh whole fruits and vegetables (uncut), eggs (cleaned and refrigerated at 45 degrees or less), grains and legumes, honey and maple syrup.
As long as the red meat is inspected, a farmer may sell it from a freezer from his/her home. Poultry may be sold out of an on-farm freezer that has not been USDA inspected as long as it was slaughtered under the 1000 bird exemption or one of the 5-A exemptions For poultry there is a dollar amount attached to the limitation set by FSIS. There is no dollar limitation for amenable meat. There is also a retail store limitation for meat and meat products of $56, 900 and $46,700 for poultry.
Storage of product may be monitored and inspected by NYSDAM.
If any product is not the farmer’s who raised the animal and who is doing the selling, then that farmer must have a wholesaler’s license regardless of volume.
The Department permits businesses (including farms) with a 20-C retail licenses to sell other foods, including perishable products like meat and dairy if products are:
- Processed at an approved processing facility
- Prepackaged and properly labeled
- Kept at the required cold temperature (below 41º F) to prevent spoilage or contamination.
No packaging, cutting, slicing or portioning of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products or ready to eat foods is permitted unless proper retail food store or commercial kitchen sanitary facilities are provided. These facilities must include running hot and cold water, equipment cleaning and sanitizing facilities, hand-washing facilities and toilet facilities. NYSDAM will sometimes consider a variance from the requirement for toilet facilities if the farm household’s toilet facilities are easily accessible.
Farmers’ markets are considered an extension of the farm; therefore, only the farmer or his/her employees can sell the meat or poultry products raised on the farm. The only exception is in the case of meat products that are both slaughtered and processed under USDA inspection. These products can be sold at a shared stand when the owner of the meat is not present assuming that the market allows joint or group ownership of booths.
Meat, poultry, and farm-raised game offered for sale at a farmers’ market must be slaughtered and processed at an approved source. Only those wild game animals identified by the DEC may be sold. Hunter harvested venison cannot be sold in New York State. (Refer to the section on wild game). The sale of custom slaughtered and/or custom processed cuts of meat is forbidden. (Please refer to the chapter on slaughter and processing for your particular type of animal for information on where animals must be butchered and processed in order to be sold as retail cuts direct to consumers.)
Fresh, frozen, and processed meats are allowed to be sold at NYS Farmers’ Markets, but the cold chain must never be broken when selling meat. Fresh meat must be kept below 41º F. Frozen meat must be kept below 32º F. This requirement can usually be met at a Farmers’ Market by 1) keeping the meat in a plugged in freezer on the back of a pickup or delivery truck if the market has electrical outlets or 2) keeping the meat in highly efficient coolers (check the rating) with cold packs or dry ice.
Cleanliness is also important and most market protocol (enforced by market managers) will require farmers to have a hand wash station at a minimum if any sampling is permitted.
Some markets may prefer that samples (for example, summer sausage) be precut rather than being cut up at the market itself. A farmer must use inspected product when selling cooked product at this farmers’ market stall.
If selling meat by the pound farmers will need a NYS Department of Weights and Measurers Certified scale unless the meat is marked prior to the market or sold by the package.
Hotels, Restaurants and Institutions (HRI)
Farmers are allowed to sell meat and poultry directly to hotels, restaurants and institution in some cases and within specified parameters. These sales are allowed under specific exemptions listed in the FMIA and the PPIA.
Under some poultry exemptions, poultry and poultry products can be sold directly to hotels, restaurants, or institutions There are some limitations depending upon the exemption the birds were processed under and there are limits to the amount of product which may be sold.
A farmer can sell USDA inspected red meat quarters, primals, cuts or value added product directly from a USDA slaughter and/or processing facility to any HRI establishment without limitations. The farmer can also take USDA inspected carcasses and quarters of red meat to his 20-C licensed facility for further processing for HRI sales. Sales of red meat from a 20-C facility to an HRI kitchen is limited to normal retail amounts and can not in aggregate exceed one-half a carcass. For cattle one-half carcass equates to 300 pounds, for calves 37.5 pounds, for sheep 27.5 pounds, for swine 100 pounds, and for goats 25 pounds. In addition, less than 25% of sales in terms of dollar value, can be sold to HRI customers and HRI total annual sales can not exceed the dollar limitation set by the Administrator for a given year.
Meat processed at a 20-C facility and sold HRI is limited to products that are sliced, trimmed, cut or ground. Adding spices to ground meat to manufacture a fresh sausage is allowed. Products that have been cooked, cured, smoked, marinated etc. at the 20-C facility can only be sold to a household consumer. The seller has to hold the 20-C license
If a restaurant is located on a particular farm and such restaurant is operated by the same farm entity that is licensed to operate a 20-C facility then the USDA slaughtered red meat processed by a farm at his own 20-C establishment may be used at his own restaurant. The meat may also be used at his own farmer’s market food stand – for example, if he sells pork sausage sandwiches made from his own USDA slaughtered pigs and processed at his own 20-C facility.
If a farmer is selling their own meat only HRI, no wholesaler license necessary. If a farmer is selling red meat from other farms to HRI, then he/she will need a wholesaler’s license. A wholesalers license (Article 20 – Farm Products Dealer License is required if annual purchases of livestock, meats, poultry from other New York producers raised by them and sold wholesale exceeds $10,000). If livestock is purchased at posted livestock auction markets (regulated by Packers & Stockyards) and/or product is sold wholesale interstate (constitutes a flow in commerce), the producer is subject to USDA-Packers & Stockyards (P&S) as to their payment and any unfair trade practice requirements. There are no filing and bonding requirements unless annual purchase volume exceeds $500,000.
A recent interpretation (May 2006) by NYSDAM no longer permits the sale in New York of on-farm processed whole poultry carcasses to restaurants unless the birds have been processed at either a 5-A poultry plant or USDA federally inspected plant. This interpretation identified the diner or restaurant patron as the ultimate retail customer.
Farm to School
Currently, Farm to School efforts are competing with the USDA Commodity Program. It is exceptionally difficult for small, local producers to compete with this program in terms of both volume and price. In addition insurance requirements and third party audits may pose barriers. However, limited opportunities may exist for banquets, fund-raising dinners or in the a-la carte line via snack sticks or jerky. Products must be labeled, including nutritional guidelines, and be approved by both the school administration as well as the cafeteria manager. Price must be competitive and the product should fall within “Wellness Policy” guidelines for nutritional content.
If the dinner is a free will offering, then the meat does not have to be either federally or state inspected. However, if tickets are sold at a set price all meat, poultry and game must be appropriately processed as legally required for sale to restaurants or caterers. However, it is advisable – based on inherent risk – to use the appropriate inspection channels.
Donations of Product
With the exception of whitetail deer donated from hunters after delivery for inspection to custom processing plants, all donated meats to food banks and missions must comply with legal requirements for selling that particular species of meat. The FDA has proposed revising the requirements for processing of donated foods. It would require multi-state processors to enter into National Processing Agreements and would permit processors to substitute donated beef and pork with commercially purchased beef and pork of U.S. origin and of equal or better quality than the donated food for use in value added products
Fairs and Festivals
Fairs and festivals are different from Farmers’ Markets in that most products sold are in the ready-to-eat form. Cooking can be done at an on-site facility or at an off-site facility and then appropriately transported to the location. Vending permits as well as appropriate County Health Department Permits are required. In order to receive such a permit some counties may require specific training, a HACCP plan, or other documentation as requested. All meat, poultry, and game must have been appropriately processed as legally required for sale to caterers or restaurants.
Refrigerated foods must be mailed cold or frozen in a foam or heavy cardboard box with a cold source included. The package must be labeled “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated”. The package should be mailed for next day delivery. When mailing by private carrier, do not use a postal address, use a house or apartment number to make sure the package is received in person. Keep tracking records and shipping records. It is best to alert the customer that the package is in the mail and to remind them to promptly refrigerate or freeze upon receipt. All meat, poultry, and game must have been appropriately processed as legally required for retail sales.
Direct marketers in this market channel will need to investigate the cheapest and safest ways to handle payment (including credit cards and/or paypal accounts), shipping materials and containers (including labels), and shipping costs (including getting the product to the shipping point). An accurate real-time inventory system is essential.
Finding a Specialty (Niche) Market for Meat and Poultry
Breaking into a specialty food store, a gourmet restaurant or even finding a reputable wholesaler to buy livestock or produce takes a lot of hard work and persistence. Successful farmers are often reluctant to share their sales secrets and information because many have earned the privilege of doing business with niche customers through the school of hard knocks. Simply handing such information out freely seems to invite competition to what a farmer-marketer is doing. However, more and more small-scale farmers are going out on their own, doing their own marketing, and trying to make a sale where they are able.
Marketing is a hard job and a time consuming one. Anyone thinking any different is entirely wrong. In many cases, over half a farmer’s time can be spent on marketing, promotion, and sales if a farmer decides they are going to move their product directly without the use of an intermediary. Some farmers find this frustrating and give up. Other farmers do not account for the time they spend in this aspect of their business and therefore are not adequately compensated. So how does one go about getting into a niche market?
The first step to getting into any establishment is to get a referral. This is not an easy task, but it must be done. Chefs are a tight knit group, and a referral is paramount to success.
With referral in hand, farmer-marketers should do their homework and learn as much as possible about the customer. Farmers should be encouraged to look for a good “fit” between their products and of those of the intended customer. Farmers should consider the establishment’s existing product line, price range, and determine the probability that the intended customer would purchase their farm product. Farmer-marketers should find out who actually does the purchasing and ordering- as it may be the owner, the purchasing agent, the chef, or the souse chef. Farmers should not waste their time or their customer’s time. It is a farmer’s responsibility to check on these details before making any contact with the intended customer.
Once a producer has a referral and they have investigated the proposed customer, then they should send a cover letter that is very short and to the point – chefs do not like to take the time to read lengthy brochures, letters, etc. Farmers need to make sure that they include the referral in the letter. Farmers might also send a very well written brochure and of course their price list. All material sent must look professional. There is a lot of competition out there, and direct marketing farmers are competing with the big boys, some of them global suppliers.
Farmers should allow several days – up to one week – for the intended customer to read the material sent. Farmers are encouraged to follow up with a phone call. Sometimes farmers will receive a flat out rejection, but other times they just might get a foot in the door. At this point farmers should make an appointment to see the intended customer. (Farmers are encouraged to set a specific time and date. Some might even want to send a postcard as a reminder of their meeting.)
The meeting itself is very important. Farmers must be prepared to answer any question asked of them such as: What quantities, what qualities, who else is using it, what makes it different, how can it be used (recipe suggestions can be helpful in some situations), what is the nutritional profile, how will it be delivered, how much does it cost, what are shipping terms, what are the payment terms? These are just some of the many questions that buyers will ask. Farmers must be prepared and know the answers. If the perspective customer is sincerely interested, then a sample should be offered. Do not waste money on handing out samples if the intended buyer is truly not interested.
Give the prospective customer a day or two to try the product. If a great sales pitch was delivered, samples will be tried immediately. Farmers are encouraged to follow up on their visit with a phone call. At this point, a good salesperson will not only securely hook their customer but will also get them to place an order. Without a commitment, there is a significant risk that the customer will be lost. Salespersons must act tactfully as no-one likes to feel pressured. Farmers should practice their sales pitch with some good friends, including those who like to play the devil’s advocate. Farmers need to be sure that they and the buyer are describing the same cuts of meat and that the buyer understands the expected size/weight of particular retail cuts.
With an initial order, make sure everything is as promised, or better. Follow the order up with a phone call to make sure the customer has received their delivery and to insure that everything was satisfactory. Farmers should consider an additional phone call, about a week later, to see how the customer liked the product, how the response was, and if the buyer is in need of more products.
Very few customers will call the farm to place an order. Farmers have to do the calling and they have to do it without being “annoying”. Never call a chef during lunch or dinner, and never call on weekends. There are hours of the day that are more convenient for meeting with certain customers. Each customer will have a personal preference. Farmer-marketers should keep a notebook for each customer, noting when calls were made, when orders were placed, what the customer ordered, and the feedback received.
Generally, customers will develop a routine, or a usage schedule that can be predicted. Some big restaurants place weekly orders, others bi-weekly, and still others monthly. Some chefs have products on the weekly menu; others run “specials” or featured dishes.
The farmer must do all he/she can so as not to lose contact with the customer; this is especially true if a farmer is marketing a seasonal product. If a farmer sells meats only in the fall and winter, contact during the spring or summer is still necessary. Farmers should be in regular contact with their customers, so that they can adjust their level of production especially if demand increases or decreases dramatically.
Farmer-marketers need to remember that building a relationship with a chef is more important than building one with the restaurant. If a chef leaves, a farmer should do whatever it takes to find where the chef has moved. Even if he/she has moved, a loyal chef will remain a valuable customer, especially if a great product is involved. Farmers might even pick up a second customer, by contacting the new chef at the same restaurant.
Holidays are very important at restaurants. By knowing the clientele of the restaurant, a farmer will have some idea of the market demand. During holidays, this demand will increase dramatically. Farmers should anticipate the increased needs and do what they can to ensure that they can supply product at that time. Holidays are a good time to get into a restaurant as a product “special” if they are not already a regular buyer. If the chef likes the product enough, the farmer has a good chance of repeat sales.
Ethnic restaurants have very specific needs, and not just any product will do. Farmers must ask the specific requirements from these types of customers. Farmers should also watch the calendar for the holidays of such ethnic markets. It is a good idea to call well in advance, (two to three weeks ahead), to get an idea of a restaurant’s anticipated holiday orders.
Marketing to restaurants and retail specialty stores is not for everyone. It takes a lot of commitment and many, many hours on the phone and in the car traveling. For some, group or regional marketing makes more sense. In this situation, one individual represents several farmers and a wide array of various products. Farmers need to help each other, not step on each other. However, this is difficult without understandings – some of which may be needed to be in writing. There are many markets out there waiting to be explored. The entire east coast from Boston to Richmond, Virginia is a potential market waiting to be developed. It is not endless but it is vast. Farmers should not be fighting amongst themselves for a market in just one of these cities. Farmers should work together.