If there’s one mission impossible for pick-your-own operations, it might just be how to set a pricing structure. Odds are you’ve struggled with this more than once in the lifespan of your business.
So, I decided to tackle the issue head on and provide clear ideas from other operations around the country. But, what I discovered is answers for the best way to set a pricing structure for a pick-your-own operation are about as diverse as your offerings.
Take Phil Quinn, of Quinn Farm in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot, QC, Canada. Quinn charges admission to his family’s farm — at $5 a head most of the year and $8 in the fall — and from there he charges an additional fee for picking. The pricing structure depends on the crop. He offers an early bird special for serious pickers — free admission. He also offers prepaid baskets, but will charge people $2 extra a pound if they bring their own.
“It’s all prepaid before people go to the field,” he says.
AT THE U-PICK CROSSROADS
Andrew Thiessen of Thiessen Orchards in Leamington, ON, Canada, boils down this pick-your-own pricing quandary simply.
“There are two camps. One is you should be charging before they even get on the property. Then, there’s the other camp which is ‘we just keep the pumpkin and apple prices higher and then don’t charge to get on the property and then charge for (other agritainment) activities separately.”
Thiessen doesn’t charge admission, but he has steadily raised prices by $0.25 per pound the last two years. This year, he will charge $1.50 a pound for apples. He says the simple increase has made a big difference to his farm’s bottom line.
“We’ve decided to just raise the price on fruit again and see where we’re at. We’re still comparable to the grocery store, as far as price goes but at the grocery store you can’t get a hayride, pick-your-own apples off the tree and spend some time at the farm and have a day out with the family.”
PRICING BY THE POUND
Pick-your-own at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville, VA, is priced by the pound.
“We realize that it does mean some customers have to stand in line twice — to get their bag and get their instructions and then come back through to have their bags weighed and pay for them,” says co-owner Cynthia Chiles. “But, that does seem to work best for us.”
Chiles says if her family ever decides to switch to an admission-based pricing structure it would likely be because too many customers picked, ate, and wasted too much fruit. She also said on peak weekends the orchard and roads leading to the orchard get a bit cramped.
“We don’t mind if somebody tries one. It’s hard to resist strawberries when you’re out in the field,” she says. “We’re just finishing up our cherry season now. It’s hard to resist those. So we know that’s going to be a factor and we do keep that in consideration.”
SELLING MORE THAN JUST FRUIT
When you think about the motivation for people to visit your farm, often the experience of being on a farm trumps the fruit being picked.
For Mo Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, MA, charging for the experience is all part of his pricing structure. Visitors are charged admission, $5 per person for berries and cherries. That admission is applied toward the fruit picked in the orchard.
“If they only pick $4 of fruit, then we’re even. If they pick $6 of fruit then they owe us another $1,” he says.
Tougas sells a container for picking apples or peaches and each 10-pound peck will allow four people in. A 20-pound half bushel gets 6 people in.
He also prices his fruit sold in his farm market according to how labor-intensive it is for Tougas and his crews to harvest. Berries and cherries have a high harvest cost and those are higher than the pick-your-own price. Apples and peaches are a lower cost and Tougas will price those lower in the store. Then, visitors can decide whether to pay the extra money for picking.
“That forces them to decide what they’re really buying and what they’re really there for, without us telling them they are there to be entertained, and the part of that cost they’re paying is for the entertainment. They figure it out on their own,” he says.