Focus On Consumers

Market View

Selling direct to consumers on the farm property can range from roadside stands to pick-your-own to a market open year-round. The advantages of selling direct to consumers typically include a greater return on investment than selling product wholesale, and an outlet for goods and value-added products that do not meet the minimum quantity needed to sell in supermarkets and grocery stores.

On-farm markets also allow groups of complementary growers and agribusinesses to collectively sell products in one location, which can better suit consumer needs and demands for locally grown products. In addition, selling on-farm brings consumers to the grower’s property where thay can participate in agritourism events and activities. Growers need to consider developing marketing strategies and offering an array of products that will attract and retain consumers and encourage repeat visits.

The Value Of Value-Added
How aware are consumers of the advantages of making purchases at farmers’ markets or roadside stands? A survey directed at Pennsylvania consumers honed in on this question, asking about awareness and interest in purchasing fresh produce and value-added products marketed with the grower’s brand or as PA Preferred, which is part of Pennsylvania’s agricultural promotional program. Data was also gathered in a separate survey regarding the use of social networking tools that consumers use to learn about direct markets’ business, products, and activities.

When asked about PA Preferred, however, nearly a quarter of participants said they knew that a Pennsylvania promotional program existed with a “likely” interest in purchasing both fresh fruits and vegetables and value-added processed products. As to what brands of value-added processed products participants tend to purchase, pertaining to canned or bottled fruit and/or vegetables, half said they purchase store or private label brands. About 10% purchase grower brands.

Communicating With Consumers
As the use of social networking is increasing between agribusinesses
and consumers, it is necessary for growers to learn the appropriate channels to communicate with customers, know their desired frequency of communication, and find out what information consumers desire direct marketers to share.

Data to assist direct marketers — which includes those selling at farmers’ markets, on-farm markets, and CSAs — in their effort to reach and inform consumers about their product offerings was collected from consumers surveyed in a five-metropolitan area in the mid-Atlantic region (Richmond, VA; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and New York City).
From the feedback it was learned that social networking usage was not restricted to learning about friends’ and families’ updates and activities. Rather, nearly three-quarters of participants subscribed to or belonged to a business’ social network. Involvement in a business’ online and social networking sites ranged from learning about “goods, services, and a business’s direction” to learning about “complementary business” and about the industry.

What components of a food producers’ or retailers’ social networking site best appeal to survey participants? More than half selected “notice of coupons, promotions, discounts, recipes, and preparation instructions.”

Facebook Friendly
Nearly all survey participants had an active Facebook account; however, as might be expected, usage varied based on age range. When participants were asked if Facebook would be a “good fit” for direct marketers — on-farm markets and farmers’ markets, pick-your-own operation, roadside stand, and local winery — a third said “yes.”

Nevertheless, a greater percentage indicated that websites and email were a “good fit.” Tools such as Twitter, MySpace, and blogs were selected by fewer than 20% of the participants.

Though social networking tools provide a conduit for two-way communication, traditional advertising methods (print, TV,  and/or radio) still have a degree of usefulness when promoting goods and services to consumers. For example, about two-thirds said print ads were a “good fit” for on-farm markets and farmer’s markets.

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