Everyone’s No. 1 marketing strategy should be to know your market. Even if you don’t care to admit it, your customer base is likely changing. Older customers are being replaced by Millennials, so you may be seeing a greater diversity among your customers.
Ask yourself: Are you still growing for the typical American family? Before you answer that, can you define what is typical?
One person who says things are becoming less typical is Dave Specca, a Rutgers colleague who has kept his family’s New Jersey farm going with a small pick-your-own (PYO) operation on the side. His father and grandfather were wholesale vegetable growers, but they always had some PYO customers looking for the Italian specialties his grandfather brought from the old country. Today, Specca Farm’s customers come from the northern and eastern Mediterranean region, though more folks from northern Africa and Caribbean countries are starting to show up, too.
Fearing getting too many pickers for his small plantings, Specca says he’s never advertised. However, these are very tight-knit communities, and word spreads fast regarding what crops are available. “If I have a good crop ready to pick, word quickly spreads through social media and the parking lot fills up fast,” he says.
The Millennial Factor
Getting back to the Millennials, knowing what they want is critical, and they want transparency. Don’t try to cover it up or “greenwash” it.
There’s no greenwashing at Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA. Fifteen miles from downtown Boston, an hour before their strawberry festival was scheduled to open, farm employees were directing the line of cars to the overflow parking lot, because the 105 spaces in the main lot were already full.
More intriguing than the crowd were the signs throughout the market describing the operation’s farming practices.
These practices, which can be found on the farm’s website, provide an account of the operation’s IPM program, and reassure customers that “chemical pesticides may be used, but only as a last resort, and only if absolutely necessary.” There’s also an open invitation to join a farm tour for “an inside peek behind the scenes at Wilson Farm.”
Led by Jim Wilson, these free adult walking tours are held on select Thursday evenings from June through August.
I called Wilson, curious if he ever got more than a handful of visitors. He told me he started these farm tours about 25 years ago, with groups averaging about 30 participants, mostly in response to feeling “that first wave of competition from chains. The plan was to promote that we actually grow the stuff we sell.”
The original intent for the tours was to help people understand how their food is grown. But as one of the biggest retail farm markets in the region, every time something hit the Boston Globe about pesticides, customers would call the farm.
Wilson said he would calmly tell the caller he was not going to solve all his or her concerns over the phone, and would invite the person to “come on down to the farm for a demo in the field.”
Over the years, Wilson says he has enjoyed showing people the amount of thought that goes into growing. He only recalls one or two people who couldn’t be won over.
“Most reasonable people are so blown away that they become lifelong customers,” he explained. “It’s so easy to demonstrate if you can take the time. We’re all busy, but it’s a very important part of customer relations.”
Social Responsibility Sells
Being transparent is a selling feature and so is being socially responsible, so tell your story. For example, talk about how your operation is cutting waste.
Despite my protests that there is more waste of fresh produce on the consumer side than on the farm, coming up with a way to convince shoppers that you’ve reduced waste on the farm with a catchy name for your produce that’s not top quality might induce them to buy. Remember, though, no greenwashing.
This also works well for the big guys. The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market will point out that they are the single largest donor of fresh produce to PhilAbundance, the local food relief agency. They also recently announced they are working to support the hurricane relief effort for Haiti, teaming up with a non-profit crowdfunding group to raise funds to build safe homes for displaced families.
These may not be the marketing strategies you are used to implementing, but they do get you noticed and can have a positive impact on your bottom line.