“How can you send a message to that person living in the city that when they buy the product off the shelf, they are getting a piece of that dream, even though they don’t get to live it personally?”
– DAG FALCK, NATURE’S PATH FOODS
Unlike their conventional brethren, organic farmers can’t just dump truckloads of grain down the grate at the local elevator, then wait for a cheque.
Getting the best price in the organic niche generally requires much more marketing effort and savvy – even a specific kind of personality.
A connection to the end-user, and an understanding of the marketing chain, represents a huge advantage for organic marketers, according to Dag Falck of Nature’s Path Foods, the leading brand of organic breakfast cereals in North America.
Falck, the Richmond, B. C. company’s organic program manager, listed seven basic steps to successfully marketing anything, from milk and grains to market garden produce.
“First, you need something that someone else wants – or thinks they want,” Falck said in a presentation on the sidelines of the two-day Eastern Prairies Organic Tradeshow held here recently.
“In our case, with agricultural commodities, we have something that people automatically want because people need to eat.”
But customers must also become aware you have something they want. Then you have to make it available for them to buy.
Second, a marketer has to know who the buyers are. The stock answers for entrepreneurs creating a business plan for an organic venture would list their target customers as middle-class, educated, critical thinkers.
“You have to really focus in on who your customer is. It isn’t everybody,” said Falck.
“Organic food is purchased once in awhile by somewhere around 50 per cent of people. The people who buy organic exclusively is probably less than one per cent. And then there’s a range in between there.”
Others are vehemently against all things organic and will even go out of their way to avoid buying something if it touts itself as organic, he added.
THEIR IDEAL LIFESTYLE
It may seem odd to real-life farmers, said Falck, but many organic food buyers romanticize country living and in some ways wish they were organic farmers instead, even those occupied with a fast-paced, professional urban lifestyle.
“So, you are actually living out their dream,” he said. “How can you send a message to that person living in the city that when they buy the product off the shelf, they are getting a piece of that dream, even though they don’t get to live it personally?”
Connecting a product to the notion that purchasing the product is a way of supporting their ideal lifestyle, enhances the value of it in their minds, he added.
The third step is identifying companies, brands and products in which your production might end up being used. Nature’s Path, for example, typically buys only ingredients such as flour, flakes, grits and bran, not whole grains.
“This is your marketplace that you want to become familiar with. You may want to phone all of them, ask what they buy, what’s their price, what’s their delivery system, specs, all that.”
Fourth, investigate who the manufacturers buy from. It’s worth the effort to learn about all elements of the supply chain, from seed-cleaning plants, grain buyers and storage facilities to handling, bagging and shippers.
Many farmers want to know if it’s possible to sell directly to Nature’s Path. But because modern manufacturing plants run “tight” and “very strict” supply chains, the learning curve may be too steep for small operators.
“If we run out of an ingredient and a truck was going to be two hours late, that would cost us a huge amount of money,” he said. “Many manufacturers now won’t even allow you to deliver ahead of time. The trucker who delivers it gets a window of 10 minutes to deliver it.”
Fifth, find out what form a manufacturer prefers to buy your product in, whether whole, cleaned, milled or flaked. Also important are little details that could lead to a shipment being rejected, such as proper pallet presentation, shrink wrapping, and other critical elements.
Sixth, ask buyers whether they would be interested in buying direct from your farm, and under what terms. Be careful, he added: some of their requirements may end up not being worth your trouble.
Seventh, enhance your product to make it fit the customer’s preferences. Nature’s Path is genuinely interested in who grows its ingredients, he said, a good portion of which are sourced through Grain Millers.
“Our relationship with that supplier has evolved so that we’re speaking the same language. Their commitment to organic, land stewardship and integrity is the same as ours. It’s just about having a certificate.” [email protected]