Marketing Farm Products
Marin County Market Options
The bay area represents an important market for Marin producers. Our milk product is sold regionally, and several beef producers sell directly to consumers in the greater bay area region. Marin aquaculture primarily targets bay area markets, though some have national distribution. Direct sales to grocers and farmers markets represent a growing opportunity.
Read more about the role of direct marketing in California.
Between 1997 and 2007 the value of direct market sales about doubled to $1.6 million though the number of farms selling direct (40) remained the same.
Organic operations represent a strong niche in Marin. In 2008 there were 56 registered organic producers with a production value close to $17.5 million. Of the 20,598 acres registered 20,197 were organic pasture and 410 were row crop acreage. This reflects the predominance of livestock agriculture here. Farmstead and artisan cheese production is growing as dairy producers diversify and new operators start up goat and sheep dairies. Ten years ago there was one artisan cheese company. In 2010 there are seven making farmstead and artisan cow, sheep and goat cheeses.
What does this mean, when we are looking at marketing? It means that the majority of our farm product is conventional and is being sold into the commodity markets, where farm-gate prices are fixed, and determined by the industry. Intensive marketing for price and market share is not part of the system, other than producers choosing brokers, auctions or buyers.
On the other hand, the row crop fruit and vegetable farmers and aquaculture farmers use competitive marketing programs to find customers and expand their businesses. Here are some marketing strategies:
Read on for information about:
- Farmers Markets organizations
- Agricultural Institute of Marin
- Golden Gate Marketing
- Ferry Plaza Market
Farmstands, U-pick, direct sales
Certainly the lower you are on the value chain, the more dollars you keep from your operation. But you also assume the responsibility and time that goes into attracting customers’ attention, moving product and maintaining records and inventory. Also, direct marketing from the farm, farmstand or CSA box requires a dedicated kind of customer service that is not for everyone. For those who are gregarious and love interacting, it can be the right decision.
Social networking opportunities
The new media is just getting up-to-speed, and some producers and added-value entrepreneurs are using social networks to advertise and sell products. A local goat meat producer successfully uses Facebook to communicate tastings, product availability, ranch news and events to their customers. A local row crop farmer uses his website, Facebook page and Twitter account to inform buyers of when and where their box drop-off will occur. For anyone who cares to dedicate time to this new form of marketing, opportunities are sure to surface. Check out this social media primer for information on getting started with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as examples from farmers who have.
Buying clubs, subscriptions and community service groups
These kinds of outlets are great to hook-up with if you can find them, and work out a system of availability and delivery. Be sure to look beyond the “regular suspects” for business, and ask around town who may be interested in your product.
Check out a model for a local food buying club.
Restaurants can be a good source of income, especially if they are added into a broader marketing mix. Dealing with chefs can be interesting and challenging. The Bay Area hosts a wealth of foodie interests, and chefs are always looking for the next new thing. Being engaged and aware of the trends can help growers stay on top of things.
Selling to Distributors
As farms scale up, eventually farmers are faced with the decision to sell to distributors. The greater volume calls into play efficiencies that are worth the lower margins. Here, the lessons and methods of conventional agriculture begin to blend with the highly varied and individualized direct marketing routes.
Every producer will have their own marketing structure that works best for them. The first few years of farming experience often helps the grower sort this out, by elimination and modification.
The video below shows a little of the discussions going on in the Marin and Sonoma dairy and livestock communities about local marketing opportunities. Thanks to George McClelland and Jolynne Mendoza McClelland for sharing with us at the Dairy Focus Group in the Spring of this year, 2010.