When speaking with potential customers for the first time and trying to educate them about your operation, it is very helpful to understand what perspective it is they are coming from. In general, we have found that there are a few main reasons people seek to purchase food from small-scale producers. I am in no way attempting to tell you that every person you come into contact with is going to fit neatly into one of these descriptions. But what I can tell you is that the vast majority will exhibit many of the traits contained within one of these descriptions, and understanding these approaches from their perspective on the front end will help you greatly when educating them about what it is you are doing in order to turn them into a repeat customer. While they most likely care about more than one of the categories listed below, one of them will be the primary reason they are talking to you. Learn to discern what it is that is important to them, and spend most of your discussion on that topic to address their main concern.
While they probably don’t care about your having a little green and white sticker of accreditation from a government agency, they want to know that you are using organic practices and methods to raise your livestock. What this means to them is that things are chemical free, antibiotic free, gmo-free, etc. It probably has not occurred to them that being pasture based isn’t required of organic standards as they are very laser focused on having something that is “pure” in their minds. Explain to them how you are equal too or better than the standards set forth for certification. This type of shopper would respond well to an alternate form of certification such as Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) or American Grassfed Association (AGA). A lot of young families with small children fit into this group, or those with food sensitivities. And you’ll speak with a lot of mothers in their twenties at a farmers market who are very concerned about what it is you are asking them to feed their kids. They want to know in no uncertain terms that it is safe!
Local & Environmental
This individual is concerned with buying as close to home as possible, and being chemical or gmo-free is a distant second in their mind (often times to a fault in my opinion). They simply want to buy food from a local farmer, most likely for environmental reasons associated with food miles and freshness. Most of the food in this nation does travel 1500-2000 miles before arriving onto someones plate. Focus on explaining how many of your resources are located within a 100 mile radius of your farm. The only thing I get outside of that 100 mile radius are our day old chicks, and occasionally some stocker calves. This is very big deal to a lot of people, because that keeps food miles down and means we are supporting our local economy. They are typically also very interested in supporting local businesses, and may be a small business owner themselves. Many small business owners will support you simply because they understand local economy, and are often a sub-group in an of themselves from the “local” crowd. You may also see them buy one or two products from you, and one or two products from one of your competitors so they can spread the love so to speak. Most likely, “relational” ranks high on their list too and they will shop at a farmers market 48 weeks out of the year with a grocery list in hand.
While local and organic are probably high on their list too, this type of buyer wants to “know their farmer” and “know their food”. They care more about you, your family and building a lasting relationship more than anything else and become emotionally tied to your farm. Quick updates shared on social media make them beam with pride and keep them connected to you year round. They are probably even willing to live with a few conventional means of producing food so long as they are well informed and can make that choice themselves. Knowing exactly what they are getting from a consistent source they trust makes them feel safe about their purchase. This type of buyer will most likely support you thru thick and thin and be around for years to come. The number one thing on their list is knowing all they can about you, your methods and building a high level of trust. You can be bluntly honest with this type of buyer and they’ll respect you for it. If you breech their trust, it will be devastating to them.
I try not to pigeon-hole people, but the fact of the matter is a lot of shoppers fall into this category. That is especially true of females, and former (or soon to be former) vegetarians who no doubt make up a large percentage of your customer base. What was true decades ago is still true today: The average shopper making the buying decisions for a family is going to be a female between the age of 20-65. Generally speaking, females are much more empathetic than men and humane standards are huge for them emotionally. While nothing is unimportant to this particular shopper, how the animals are treated is by far number one on their list. The fact that you are pasture based is going to be a huge selling point for them, and pointing out things like access to fresh grass, fresh air, fresh water and sunshine being the norm for your critters will go a long way. Many females are omnivores dressed in vegetarian clothing for this one reason alone. They don’t have an issue eating meat, but they want to know that the animal had a fantastic life up until its last day. In their minds, this one thing justifies it being acceptable to eat meat. This group also tends to be fairly relational as well, and once they trust you are raising the animals as God intended and not stuffing them into a CAFO they will support you.
Believe it or not, I have had customers show up out of the blue with wallet in hand after watching something as simple as “Food, Inc.” and becoming angry at how big ag and big corporations are treating food like any other commodity and attacking small farmers. These folks had absolutely no intention of buying that crazy expensive, over priced local food twenty-four hours earlier but watching a documentary on Netflix was like flipping a light switch. The idea that large food companies would drag a local farmer thru an expensive court battle just to snuff out one little drip of competition infuriates them to no end. Folks in this segment may seem politically charged and motivated, and its not uncommon to find a very libertarian bent to many of them. A lot of left leaning folks from the “local” crowd also fall into this category. Keeping the little guy down thru regulations and threats of legal action make them madder than a hornet, and voting with their wallet is how they react.
This crowd wants a truly beyond organic product and tends to be very highly educated about what pasture based meats have to offer in terms of health and nutritional benefits. They were probably part of the “organic” crowd at one point but have progressed beyond that and are much more discerning. They are also willing to pay what they must for a very high quality product and will demand things like 100% grass-fed beef and gmo-free inputs. If you don’t meet all of their criteria on that front, they probably will not support you at all. Most likely they embody many if not all of the attributes from the other categories and in particular the pasture based, relational and local aspects. Many of these shoppers will also be very open to alternative healthcare methods like homeopathic remedies and the use of essential oils to combat common illnesses. They also tend to be regulars with a chiropractor, small health food store or acupuncturist and those types of businesses can be a great way to connect with this clientele so consider networking with them.
The “Good Food, Feel Good” Crowd
A lot of casual shoppers at a farmers market fit into this category. They enjoy hitting a market once or twice a month, especially during nice weather days of summer and fall. They love getting a fresh tomato, some sweet corn and a package of wings or bratwurst for the grill that weekend. The real taste of real food appeals to them greatly, but they have not yet had that paradigm shift where buying local is an intentional and regular part of their lives. Rubbing elbows with a couple of farmers on a Saturday morning gives them warm fuzzies and they enjoy the social aspect of the market as much as anything else. These shoppers are a fairly decent stream of income for you at a summer market for a few packages of your high profit items, like grabbing a $12/lb package of bacon for a BLT. Some of them will graduate to the hard core local food crowd for one reason or another, but don’t expect many of them to convert anytime soon. They are there because you have good tasting stuff, it’s a nice day out and they feel like splurging on something artisanal instead of buying “that other stuff” at the supermarket. This crowd is trending upwards at farmers markets, as they hear their friends and family talk about how great tasting local food is. Market to them purely from a retail aspect and connect with them on that feel good level. But have your antenna tuned in for the ones you begin to see regularly and who begin asking more questions. They are on the brink of having that mental break thru.