Workshop focuses on how to market locally-grown food

Hort Americas attended the “MarketReady Training Program
for Local Farmers, Ranchers and Food Producers” workshop in April in Fort
Worth, Texas. The program was presented by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agricultural
economists Francisco Abello and Marco Palma. The MarketReady workshop discussed practices that small-scale growers and other food producers could
effectively use to approach and market to restaurants, caterers, grocery stores,
food distributors and chains. Topics covered included communications and
relationships, packaging, labeling, pricing, supply, delivery, quality
assurance, storage, invoicing, insurance and marketing.

The MarketReady training program was developed for the MarketMaker network
 of states to provide growers with the information and tools to engage the various
markets and develop supplier relationships.

The morning portion of the program focused on selling to
restaurants and was presented by Abello. He discussed how producers and their
customers can use the Texas MarketMaker website
to promote and find food products. Texas MarketMaker is an all-in-one resource
providing information on locally-grown Texas farm products, seafood, wineries,
farmers markets and agritourism.

“This is a free tool to help connect farmers with
buyers,” Palma said. “It also provides important marketing tools for farmers.
We will be providing information on a wide range of produce, including, fruits
and vegetables, livestock and dairy, seafood, etc.”
The MarketMaker National Network,
which currently has 20 states using the website, is maintained by the
University of Illinois. The MarketReady training program
was developed for the MarketMaker network of states to provide growers
with the information and tools to engage the various markets and develop
supplier relationships.
The MarketMaker National Network currently has 20 states using the website.
Abello said the Internet enables producers to reach many
more potential customers than traditional advertising. He urged producers who
develop their own websites to maintain and update them so that they are
interactive and current since customers have 24/7 access to businesses’ websites.
He also suggested that producers promote themselves on Facebook.
Producers who want to sell to restaurants must be
receptive to the chefs’ needs and to the feedback they have to offer. Abello
said producers need to build an open line of communication and be accessible to
chefs by phone and email.

Producers should also know what is happening with their
customers’ businesses to show they are interested and know what they are doing.
Abello said producers have to understand what their customers’ needs are before
crops are planted.

Marketing fruits
and vegetables

Ag economist Marco Palma discussed several aspects of
marketing related to the production and marketing of produce. He said there are
a number of negative and positive issues currently affecting the horticulture

Negative aspects:

* Stronger competition from less expensive imports and
the increased dependence of the United States on food imports.

* Increased concern by consumer over food safety.

* Increasing fuel/energy costs.

* Labor costs and availability.

Positive aspects:

* Increased demand for healthy foods, organic,
environmental-friendly and local produce. Consumers have an increased interest
in food origin.

* Trade opportunities for food exports.

* Positive health dimensions (functional foods that
improve health).

* Dietary guidelines for Americans.

* Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($2.1 billion in
Farm Bill to promote fruits and vegetables).

Grocery, wholesale
and foodservice sales

Abello discussed selling to grocery stores, food
distribution companies and large chain stores. These companies have been the
primary customers of large farms that produce large volumes and can ship
tractor trailer loads long distances.

Abello said the changes in market dynamics are making
these outlets more available to smaller growers. The increasing interest by
consumers to buy more locally-grown produce, consumer concern with where their
food is coming from and its safety along with the increase in long distance
shipping costs, are giving smaller producers an opportunity to look at
wholesale marketing channels. He said communication and relationship building
are critical to conducting business with wholesale customers. He said the
business relationship with these customers is more professional and that
negotiations are a part of the everyday process of doing business with this
market segment.

For more: Marco

Francisco Abello, a former doctoral student in the
Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, has returned
to Argentina to farm and ranch.

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