Do you have more meat in your farm freezer that you can sell? Do you have trouble reaching customers or getting the prices you should to keep your farm viable?
“Most farmers go into farming because they love farming, not because they love marketing,” said Matt LeRoux, an agricultural marketing specialist with Cornell’s Cooperative Extension. At a recent workshop offered by the Rhode Island Raised Livestock Association, he coached livestock farmers to offer messages that resonate with customers and grow product sales.
Marketing is defined as identifying what customers want, creating products to satisfy that need and delivering those products. Marketing is not manipulating, tricking or misleading customers into buying something. Marketing is much more than just advertising
Marketing includes your target customer and the 4Ps: product, place, price and promotion. Marketing materials include business cards, brochures, posters, websites, social media sites, signs and conversations.
It really is “all about the customer,” said LeRoux. He recommended farmers speak with current and potential customers to help direct future products and marketing efforts.
• First, identify your customers. Are they restaurant or institutional chefs, commercial cooks, or families? Each has different needs and expectations.
• What is your customer’s motivation? Do they care about non-GMO or growth hormone-free products? Do they want fresh, local, nutritious food? Do they like supporting local farmers and maintaining open space? Learn the key words that resonate with customers and use them in your message and materials.
• What do customers want to buy? Do they prefer frozen or fresh meats, specific cuts, recipe suggestions, ground meats, sausages, salamis or other value-added products? Customers may inspire you to create a new product or product line.
• How do they want to get the products? Do they prefer a weekly CSA/meat share, farmers market pickup or restaurant delivery? Try to accommodate them if you can.
Use census data and other local market information to verify that your target area can support specialty (high priced) meats and meat products. If not, you may have to market in a nearby city or town with a higher average disposable income.
There are four main types of customer groups:
1. Foodie, locavore enthusiasts are experience-driven. These adventurous chefs and cooks are excited to try new things, are often “snout to tail” customers and may buy non-traditional cuts.
2. Personal health and social cause-motivated buyers are cause-driven and often bring reusable bags to markets or CSA pickups. They will eat less desirable cuts. They are skeptical about large-scale food production and processed foods. They are likely to ask how the animals were raised. They may need to be educated if they have misinformation.
3. Traditional buyers are price and value-driven. These loyal customers are often overlooked. Try growing this customer segment by offering a payment plan. These are good prospects for a pre-slaughter contract.
4. Ethnic or religious buyers are culturally motivated. Reach a few of these customers and they will bring their friends. They value being treated with respect, develop trust, and will reward you with loyalty. Research their special holidays. Have the right animals and cuts ready for their holiday meals.
A hybrid of the first two groups may be price sensitive and a good prospect for a quarter or half animal. LeRoux recommends farmers continue to concentrate on their current main customer group(s) while working to expand customers.
Be sure all your materials, family and staff use the same message and words to describe your farm and products. Focus your message, brand identity and vocabulary to help differentiate you from competitors.
LeRoux offered this example. “Our farm raises pastured chickens for families in our neighborhood who don’t know how to use our product.” This strategy statement might lead you to reach customers with these tools.
• Offer a butchering demo (teach how to cut up chickens)
• Include recipes with purchase
• Host a picnic or potluck; offer samples
• Include (or sell separately) herb packets with meat purchase
• Offer butchered/cut up chicken (and charge for it)
Remember to talk to customers; learn their interests and challenges. Be sure you provide exactly what customer groups are looking for. Your unique strategy statement will help you select the best places and tools for reaching customers.
Evaluate your competitors and market opportunities. Look at your product versus your competitors’ products:
• Price — is your price higher or lower?
• Format and Packaging — Is your product offered fresh in a display case or frozen in cooler? Is it pre-wrapped in clear plastic or cut fresh and sold in butchers’ paper?
• Market Channels — Do you sell in specialty stores, at farmers markets or farm store?
• Products and Cut Selection — Do you sell by the cut, pound, in quarters, family packs, etc?
• Value-Added — Do you sell value-added products, charcuterie, sausages, smoked meats, etc?
• Processing Choice — Is your meat processed by a USDA-inspected or custom facility?
• Promotion — Do you have tasting events at specialty stores or wine shops? Do you share farm fliers with family members and your network? Do you have business cards and brochures with you everywhere you go?
• Communication — Keep your social media active and website fresh. Use attractive signs to lead customers to your farm and have price sheets available.
LeRoux recommended farmers have a Facebook page and a website. If you cannot do both, at least maintain a Facebook page. Post cute farm, family and animal photos. Mix in some promotions or sale items. Post links to relevant local or national stories on livestock farming and specialty foods. Be sure to promote the farmers markets you are attending and your own CSA/meat. Feel free to promote other local farms as long as you like their products and are not in direct competition.