Buying fresh/buying local is a trend that continues to grow every year and shows no sign of slowing down. Reasons include consumer awareness of the problems caused by industrial agriculture and long distance food transportation and the desire to support local farmers.
Because of the rapid growth of farmer’s markets, retailers such as grocery stores, food co-ops and food service departments in schools and hospitals are adding more local products to their grocery store aisles and menus.
Because of this, small growers of food and related products can now count on regular sales to local grocers, school and hospital cafeterias and other local food venues.
Before jumping into this market, newer growers should have some experience with selling their produce and value-added food products directly to the public. One of the best ways to gain that experience is by selling at farmer’s markets for one or more seasons. This allows time to fine-tune your growing and marketing skills before you take it to the next level.
Sales to small independent grocers are generally best when starting out. Access to buyers is better and it is easier to build a long-term relationship with the store. Grocers, co-ops and food service departments at local schools and hospitals, just like restaurants, expect high quality produce or food products, as well as dependable deliveries.
Start by making an appointment with buyers to find out what they need. Be sure to bring samples whenever possible, as well as a list of what you expect to grow and harvest during the current season. Ask about their packaging and labeling preferences and product codes.
Most grocery store cash register technology requires either a PLU (product lookup number) or a UPC (universal product code) on products. The PLU numbers are more common for fresh products sold in the produce department, while UPC numbers are used for packaged products. You can find a complete list of PLU codes at www.plucodes.com, under “produce coding.”
Most grocery stores, co-ops and food service departments are on a monthly billing cycle, so be sure to submit invoices in time for their payment cycle. In addition, it’s always a good idea to have the receiving clerk to sign for the products when you deliver them.
To increase sales at local stores, create signage that promotes your farm with pictures. A colorful logo helps tie it all together. To get an inexpensive logo, visit www.fiverr.com and search for “logo design.” Talk to the produce manager about sampling, as in-store demos can increase sales substantially.
If you’re seeking a larger market for your crops, consider becoming part of the booming “buy local” movement. It’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss!