Marketing your produce
There's never been a better time to be a fresh market grower. Farmers markets are thriving and customers are enthusiastic about locally grown food. This is the year to take advantage of the local-food trend and make more money marketing your produce. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll tell you about the best ideas we've seen for improving revenue at farmers markets, roadside stands, and other direct markets.
Be first and last
Many growers work hard to be the first in their markets with a particular item. It's a smart strategy because growers who are first to market in spring capture customers early and build loyalty that can last all season. It is equally beneficial to stay active in your markets until they close in fall, or to go even further into winter with home delivery or on-farm pickup. Here are some of the crops that will keep the cash flowing long after summer is gone. . .
If you've got 70 days or more from now until your first frost, you can still plant many heat-loving summer crops, including basil, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, okra, parsley, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. For fall cut flowers, you can still plant sunflowers and zinnias.
Fall field crops
The cool weather of fall improves the flavor of beets, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips. With a low tunnel of Quick Hoops™ and row cover, you can grow most of these crops with a harvest target date up to a month after the first frost. Be aware that plants grow more slowly as the day length declines in fall, so you should add about 14 days to the estimated days to maturity for each variety. For example, a 21-day crop of Johnny's Mild Mesclun Mix or Spicy Mesclun Mix could take 35 days in fall, so count back that many days from your frost date to schedule your final planting.
If you have a hoophouse, you can grow many cool-weather crops for harvest right through December. The trick is to get your crops established before the day length drops below 10 hours; after that, plants won't grow much, but they will tolerate cold temperatures until you're ready to harvest them. Some of the vegetables you can plant in a hoophouse in August or September: leafy greens including collards, kale, lettuce, salad mix, spinach, and Swiss chard; root crops including beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips; and brassicas including broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Many vegetables can be held for a long time after harvest, anywhere from one month to six months. If you have appropriate storage facilities, you can grow in sufficient quantities that you'll be able to sell them all winter. One of the biggest trends in market gardening in recent years is the winter CSA, in which members pay for a monthly delivery of storage vegetables. Many farmers markets have extended their open season to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even year-round. Holiday markets also provide additional opportunities to sell storage vegetables.
Of course, it's too late to plant many of the traditional storage crops such as winter squash and sweet potatoes (although you might want to write a note to yourself so you remember to plant plenty next spring). But some short-term crops such as beets, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips can be grown now and stored for a month or more into winter. Here is a chart of required storage conditions for many vegetables:
|Optimum conditions for vegetables with 30+ days storage life|
|32°F/0°C and 90-100% humidity||32°F/0°C and 65-70% humidity||40-50°F/ 4-10°C and 90% humidity||55-60°F/13-15°C and 85-90% humidity||50-55°F/10-13°C and 50-70% humidity|
|Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Leeks, Rutabagas, Turnips||Garlic, Onions||Potatoes||Sweet Potatoes||Winter Squash|
- Quality, freshness, and cleanliness need to be as good as any supermarket produce.
- Quantity creates an impression of bounty that appeals to customers. Don't put out a small amount of produce, intending to replenish it as you sell. Instead, obey the old market maxim: "Stack it high and watch it fly!"
- Create blocks of color all the yellow tomatoes in one box, all the reds in another, for example. Masses of color are more visible from a distance. Yellow is the most visible color, so put it out front where it can be seen. Tilt your boxes and baskets toward customers so they can see at a glance what's available.
- Take a sprayer with cold water and mist your produce often to keep it fresh and glistening.
- Cross-sell products with signs and recipe cards, and by grouping items with suggestions for ways to use them together. For example, put kale next to potatoes with a recipe for Portuguese kale stew. Put basil near the tomatoes, and mint by the radishes. Recipe cards are easy with Growing for Market's Farm Fresh Recipes, which contains 300 ready-to-copy recipe cards for fresh produce.
- Put price signs on everything. People hate to have to ask the price. Use volume pricing to encourage larger sales, e.g. $1 each or 6 for $5.
- Create a traffic flow by placing bags on one end of the stand, the cash register on the other.
- Use signs to help you sell. While you're busy waiting on one customer, start the sales talk with the next customer with interesting signs. Mention flavor, variety names, possible uses, historical facts (e.g., "Thomas Jefferson's favorite grape!")
For more on market displays, pricing, insurance, and related issues, download a free copy of "Selling at Farmers Markets."
Do you use signs to help sell your vegetables, herbs, plants, and flowers? Send us photos of your farmer's market or roadside stand display showing the signs that help you sell. We'll choose the most creative, persuasive, helpful, and fun displays as our winners. Each winner will receive a $25 Johnny's gift certificate.
Photos must be digital .jpg images sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, farm or business name, mailing address, and telephone number.
Your entry to the contest constitutes your agreement to allow your entered photographs, name, farm or business name, city, and state/province to be used in future web articles, catalogs, and other promotional materials. Photographs become the property of Johnny's Selected Seeds. The person submitting the photos must be the owner of the market stand display or the creator of the signs. Multiple photos submitted by a single farm will be considered as one entry.
Deadline: July 25. Winners will be notified by email by August 7. Gift certificates will be mailed by August 30.
In the business world, companies spend enormous resources managing their brands. A brand is often a company's most valuable asset -- more important than inventory, real estate, and even products and a solid brand can make a business worth more than its paper assets. The brand is a company's identity and personality; the brand experience is how customers feel about and interact with the business or product. Branding is not limited to big companies with a lot of money to spend on advertising - even the smallest business has a brand that can be managed to increase profits. Although farmers don't usually think of themselves as having a brand, many of the concepts used in brand management in other sectors can be applied to agricultural businesses. Here are some ways to think about developing and managing your brand:
Articulate the identity you want to convey to the world. Describe yourself and your mission. Are you a young, urban farmer dedicated to organic growing? A family with deep roots in the farming community and long experience growing vegetables? A couple trying to create a healthy place to raise a family? A philanthropic organization helping people with disabilities? Let your personality become part of your business image.
Develop a brand name, logo, and colors that will become a consistent theme running through all your marketing. Choose carefully and get professional assistance if you feel your own efforts are not creating the identity you want. For example, a homemade logo might be a perfect fit for a rural community, but a grower catering to upscale urban restaurants might want something a bit more sophisticated. Pick something you can live with for a long time, because there's no point in developing a brand if you're going to keep changing it.
Choose the media you'll use to extend your brand. These can include printed materials such as signs, brochures, and newspaper ads as well as websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs. You don't have to be a marketing genius to employ some or all of these media. Farm-friendly web businesses such as Small Farm Central can create a website with as few or as many features as you have time to manage. At the very least, get your farm listed in local, state, and national directories (www.localharvest.org is the best-known). If you don't have time yourself, hire a teenager to create a Facebook page for you and update it once a week with information about what you'll be selling at market the next day.
Apply your name, logo, and colors to all your marketing efforts, from the hats your employees wear to the banner on your website. The goal is for you to become instantly recognizable to your customers. When they walk into your crowded farmers market, you want them to be able to find you. When they search for you on the web, you want them to know it's you the instant they click on your website.
Finally, be sure that all your interactions with the public are conveying the right message. Be pleasant, upbeat, and professional in all your dealings and be consistent with quality so that your brand becomes synonymous with great local produce.