Experiential Marketing – the Produce Shopper’s Alternative to Bland Online Shopping

Inside the farm market at Burnham Orchards

Shoppers come to a market for an experience, one reason online sales will not edge out farm markets.

Clothes shoppers want it. Brick and mortar stores have figured it out, as have some innovative online start-ups using pop-up store fronts. You can’t touch or feel — and definitely cannot try on — those photos on your screen.

While online shopping is convenient, it “is also quite flat and utilitarian in a lot of ways,” according to reporter Kassia St. Clair, speaking with David Brancaccio, host of American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report.


She wrote a piece for The Economist describing high-end apparel stores that are creating experiences as a “way of getting the customer to feel engaged and emotional about a brand.”

Brancaccio opened their discussion asking, “What is the story here? People get on lists like it’s a concert or an exclusive club to go into a boutique or a shop?”

Sometimes I Talk to my Radio

“Really?” I observed. “They’re just now figuring out what farm market operators have known for a long time.”

Gary Mount, owner-operator of Terhune Orchards Farm, Market, and Winery in Princeton, NJ, confirmed my recollection of a discussion we had a few years ago. He was telling about accepting the 2005 Apple Grower of Year award from American Fruit Grower (a sister magazine to American Vegetable Grower), presented that year at the annual U.S. Apple Association Outlook & Marketing Conference in Chicago. He remarked that his small, direct marketing operation, which includes farm festivals and pick-your-own fruit, offers the ultimate experiential farm marketing enterprises. It also legitimized the large wholesale apple shipping farms by keeping the non-farming public informed and engaged about the challenges of agriculture.

His point was that direct market operations play a significant role in the industry by keeping the public informed about developments on the farm, like the new club cultivars with limited release to large growers. Now plans include letting direct marketers grow them just to help get the public familiar with those new varieties.

Similarly in mentioning a Rutgers IPM poster front and center in the store at Terhune, Gary remarked, “There’s no way the big growers can get that story out to the public.”

The morning we talked, Terhune Orchards added another plaque to their walls this year from their Mercer County Tourism Department recognizing them as a tourism destination. And ever the marketer, Gary wore his apple-red Terhune Orchards shirt to accept the award.

 Some Reporter Must Have Had a Great Time Here

I could tell Kurt Alstede (another award winner, this time American Vegetable Grower’s 2010 Grower Achievement Award recipient) was smiling when I called about Alstede Farms being tapped recently as Morris County’s most beautiful place and the only farm in NJ.com’s article naming every NJ county’s most beautiful places:

“There are countless farms to visit in the Garden State. But Alstede Farms is as gorgeous as they get. Its 600 acres of farmland where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables, visit the farm store, go for hayrides at night and work your way through corn and sunflower mazes. Did I mention the animals? Oh yeah, they have animals. Goats, chickens, turkeys, horses and more. A visit to the farm is fun for the whole family and shows why we call New Jersey the Garden State.

“Can’t beat this…” I shared on social media along with the article.

Free, unsolicited, positive publicity is priceless. But an immediate reaction from a colleague who has subscribed to Alstede Farms’ CSA for five years proved the value of providing positive experiences for customers.

In addition to the on-farm market, tours, and pick-your-own, Alstede delivers CSA boxes and participates in a number of community farmers’ markets for the convenience of his customers. Positive experiences.

Karen Ensle, Rutgers Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, and self-described “big supporter of Alstede Farm!” described some of those positive experiences:

“They are wonderful people to work with! My son had his wedding reception [there] and they did a great job.“

“They certainly have continued to improve the mix of veg/fruit in the CSA boxes this year! Just the best — and they really do listen to consumers! I stopped by the farm and met a former home ec teacher [who] was doing their recipes and newsletter. I suggested she use simple, short recipes and to make sure at least some of the veggies like onions and garlic and herbs were in the box that week so consumers would prepare their recipes without a lot of addition ingredients. They have done that and the two recipes they include in the newsletter that is delivered in the CSA box every week has been really fabulous!”

In short, food shoppers go to farm markets for the experience, too.