Strong marketing plan key to success

MYSTIC, Conn. — People spend so much money developing their new products that they often don’t leave enough to get them to market.

Gary Morton of SKUFood and Morton Horticultural Associates in Coldbrook, N.S., said most don’t realize the challenges of launching a new enterprise.

“Sitting on the loading dock, they’re only 10 percent of the way to market. They have a long piece to go to get the product to customers,” Morton, a speaker at the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association in Mystic, Connecticut, said Feb. 7.

He said getting preserves that come from a fruit orchard into retail grocers or direct markets that have similar products requires a good sales pitch.

“Basically, the unique selling proposition that goes with it has to be strong,” Morton said.

“People don’t just buy because you’re there, and you might have to displace someone (on the shelf).”

He said setbacks must be anticipated.

“You have to be prepared as you go through the process to go back a few steps and re-work and find something that does work,” Morton said.

In today’s agriculture, bigger farms are consolidating, smaller farms are doing direct marketing and medium-sized farms don’t fit into either group.

“A lot of farmers are suffering being in a commodity market,” he said. “Unless you’re big, you don’t get into some of those markets.”

Morton called value-added an option for farmers with smaller land bases to get into new markets and develop different options.

It offers a chance to cut out the middleman and go directly to consumers, affords more control, choices and money and creates jobs and opportunities for family.

“In some ways, it can revitalize the farm,” said Morton.

“If you go into value added, you are creating a separate business.”

He cited the example of a dairy that started with a father and a labourer in the barns and grew into a cheese business that brought the farmer’s wife and two adult children into the agribusiness.

“In rural communities, if you can create jobs, you can keep people in the community,” he said.

During NAFDMA’s two days of farm tours, delegates saw how value-added enterprises can work.

8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, New York, started with hardy Icelandic sheep and has grown to include other pasture-raised livestock and an on-farm butcher’s shop and retail store.

Thomas Geppel, who was busy attending to customers at the meat counter, processes whole carcasses in his commercial kitchen for direct sales in his store and to restaurants.

“We look to maximize everything out of the animals,” he said, citing additional sales of items such as fibre, pelts, horn jewelry, eggs and produce.

Geppel said the farm allows customers to learn about where and how their stock is raised.

Greer Tree Farms at Griswold, Conn., used its location atop a hill to create an outdoor wedding venue with sweeping views of its 100 acres of Christmas trees.

Holmberg Orchards at Gales Ferry, Conn., and Harbes Family Farm and Vineyard at Mattituck N.Y., grew from producing fruit and vegetables to including wineries and farm-based activities.

Morton said common pitfalls in launching such enterprises include becoming smitten with the concept and not thinking about markets.

“They don’t even know if the consumer wants their product.”

His top tips include identifying what the product is, who its customers are and validating market opportunities. The next step is to create a prototype and try selling it at a farmers market.

“Where else can you go and find a few thousand people on a weekend that you can talk to face to face about the product,” Morton said.

The next steps involve determining if you can make enough money to cover your costs and developing a marketing strategy.

From there, build a business model that includes plans to scale up to meet future demand, he said.

The following photos are from two days of farm tours in Connecticut and New York:

Contact karen.morrison@producer.com

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