One way for farms to generate additional income is to sell produce directly to consumers. In addition to expanding the customer base, direct marketing provides producers with the possibility of selling items at higher prices because they are bypassing the middleman — the wholesaler. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (Ag MRC), successful direct marketing consists of three steps: making a direct connection to consumers, determining the consumer wants or needs, and offering products that meet those needs.
There are multiple forms of direct marketing you can utilize, which means you can test different strategies to find out what works best. You must also keep GAP compliance in mind and ensure everyone involved in your operation is following all requirements. In this article, you’ll learn about some of the most popular direct marketing strategies and the GAP requirements associated with them.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Learning Store, produce stands (or roadside markets) can vary in size and seasonality. It could be an operation as simple as a wagon or truck that sets up shop when certain popular crops are in season, or it could be a large, open-air structure (like a tent) that operates year-round. Produce stands are most frequently visited by locals. However, stands strategically located near main roads, popular parks, or other local attractions can bring in business from tourists as well.
While it is helpful for produce stands to be located in high-traffic areas, it’s just as important to be located near the farm to make transporting produce a more efficient process. This is especially true when items are running low and need to be restocked. In addition, selling on the farm or in a farm setting reinforces the quality and freshness of produce.
Many communities put together farmer’s markets that take place at the same time and place weekly or sometimes twice a week. The farmer’s market is a popular place for a variety of vendors, but fresh fruits and vegetables are typically the most desired items. When selling at a farmer’s market, consistency is critical. If vendor spots can’t be reserved, try to locate your tables in or near the same place every time to make it easy for repeat buyers to find you. Also, keep prices steady from week to week and avoid price wars with other vendors. A better way to draw attention is to have a strong advertising presence. Utilize signs or banners and put together attractive product displays that will make people want to browse your selection.
Another popular direct marketing strategy is to host U-Picks. A U-Pick is an event where you make your fields and orchards accessible to customers so they can harvest their own produce. U-Picks are popular with families looking to experience farm life and get the freshest fruits and vegetables available. For additional information about U-Picks, read this article.
Subscription farming allows customers to pay in advance for products they will either regularly pick up or have delivered to their door. Subscriptions can consist of a lump sum or a monthly fee. Subscription farming isn’t quite as common as the previously listed strategies, but it can be effective in the right situation. For best success, offer a variety of options (crop selections, quantities, etc.) and ensure that only the highest quality produce is provided. It’s also helpful to have a contract that clearly states the terms of the subscription.
There are many GAP requirements associated with these direct marketing events aimed at keeping consumers safe. The first step is to ensure all food products are clean. Washing produce (especially samples) in clean, cool water will eliminate dirt and other impurities. However, make sure the rinsing water is not more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the produce because it can cause any pathogens on the produce to be absorbed through the stem or blossoms.
Cold food must be stored and served in covered containers that are kept below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If offering samples, provide utensils or toothpicks for customers so that they don’t touch food with their hands. You should also have garbage cans on-site to collect trash or unfinished samples.
Ensure that all workers wash their hands before working with food. This article goes in-depth about the importance of handwashing. Portable sanitation equipment (toilets and sinks) are especially helpful at direct marketing events because in many cases there will not be traditional toilet and handwashing facilities available. Finally, it’s important to clean and sanitize any surface or equipment that will come into contact with food. Cleaning and sanitizing should be repeated every four hours, which greatly reduces the risk of workers or customers being exposed to pathogens.
In addition to GAP requirements, there are other legal considerations to keep in mind. Failure to comply with any of them could get your operation in legal trouble. Some of the primary considerations noted by the Ag MRC include:
- Selling products produced by others rather than raised by you
- Not carrying sufficient liability insurance
- Failing to comply with labor rules when hiring employees
- Conducting business in an area not zoned for commercial use
- Allowing unsafe conditions to exist on your property
- Selling processed foods that have been produced at an unlicensed facility
- Not complying with record-keeping and paperwork rules for tax or labor laws
Safety is Good for Business
Customers expect fresh, safe food at direct marketing events. Hold your operation to the highest sanitation standards at all times. To learn about additional GAP best practices, download a FREE copy of GAP Compliance Made Easy at AgSinksTB.com. You can also request FREE Toilet & Handwashing Compliance Signs to post at your events.
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