Farm-To-Table (FTT) dining is quite fashionable these days. From five-star restaurants with celebrity chefs providing preparations of that day’s harvest from regional farms to community celebrations supporting their local growers, FTT events can be useful marketing tools that can be adapted to fit a variety of needs. Organizations have used FTT dinners as fundraisers to support their causes, while Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers have invited members into the fields, even under high tunnels, to feast on preparations of the surrounding crops.
Most FTT dinners tend to be promotional or celebratory in nature, but they could also be the ultimate farm focus group event. Certainly, a CSA operator can get direct feedback from current and potential subscribers, but any farm operation can wine and dine buyers. Whether direct or wholesale customers, a FTT event could give attendees a better sense of conditions on the farm, and in turn, provide direct responses about buying habits, giving a critique of the farm and products grown.
While there are no set rules, often focus group members are enticed to participate by either a small stipend or a meal, sometimes both. If you want to get reactions about the vegetables you grow, what better way than to serve them and then discuss their attributes with the diners. Keep in mind, however, that this now takes on a different purpose than the traditional FTT dinner.
Money Maker Or Market Exploration
If you’re celebrating the harvest and asking a few simple questions throughout the event, you might get away with charging the relatively high prices typical of FTT fare ($50 to $100 plus per plate). On the other hand, if you’re carefully screening and recruiting a select group to represent your target market, you will need to consider whether this is a promotional fundraiser or a marketing cost for you to cover. That certainly will impact how many guests you host.
A promotional or fundraising event would allow as many guests as you could reasonably accommodate. While 25 to 50 or more guests are often the norm for FTT events, six to 12 are recommended for a serious focus group as more manageable both in cost and the ability to keep all the participants focused on the discussion.
Planning Is The Key To Success
As with any event, careful planning will ensure better results. Once you’ve decided the purpose, develop a list of participants. A focus group will require more attention to invitees that represent either a specific target market, or the broad representation of your current customer base. Put together the questions that you want answered, but not too many so you don’t overwhelm your guests. Lastly, select a moderator who can adeptly move the group through your questions. A recorder and possibly some observers who take notes will keep the leader free to moderate.
FTT dinners require attention to detail as any prepared food events would. First and foremost, check with local officials to make sure this type of event is allowed and whether it would require a special permit. Don’t forget that health department regulations will likely require potential inspections or at least a health certificate, a separate certified commercial kitchen, and proper equipment to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. This is a commercial event, not a private dinner, after all.
Analyze The Results
In a University of Arizona fact sheet titled “Using Focus Groups for Evaluation,” (http://bit.ly/1dXXCne) authors Mary Marczak and Meg Sewell discuss the ins and outs of focus groups. They describe what these sessions can and cannot tell you, advantages, and disadvantages, as well as a detailed step-by-step guide to conducting a focus group event from conceptualization to analysis. Focus groups produce a group reaction, so responses need to be interpreted for the group, not individuals.
Marczak and Sewell also noted the advantage of interacting directly with participants. For example, they highlight being able to observe body language supporting or contradicting verbal responses. Fine dining in the field might produce some glowing reviews of your harvest bounty, but watch closely to make sure scowling faces aren’t sending different clues.