This is the second of two blogs written by Clare Grantham, from The Safer Food Group.
The Safer Food Group is a market leading company meeting the training needs of food businesses. Our online training is suited to small producers, manufacturers, retailers and caterers, who require flexible, value-for-money training.
Finding your customer
This is the second in our series of ‘Starting a food business – Farm Shops’ posts. However, thinking about the marketing aspects of your business should take equal priority to the legislative requirements in terms of your input and planning time; after all, without customers, you have no business.
Marketing your farm shop
First things first – you need to understand your typical customer(s), and what they want and expect from you.
Get to know your local area and the people who may visit. In an affluent area, you have an opportunity to appeal to customers looking for something special, a treat, something they may not be able to find in their supermarket. They may be increasingly health conscious and looking for organic or plant based produce, and may well be less price sensitive. If this is your typical customer, they are likely to think of your shop as a ‘destination’ outlet, rather than a regular shopping venue, so you might want to think about adding value with a coffee shop, special events, gourmet meal kits or a unique service such as advice for home growers.
Customers from a less affluent area are likely to be looking for value for money. You may not be able to compete directly with the supermarket on the price of staples but think about selling in volume and using special offers on plentiful, seasonal goods. Help customers with suggestions about using your produce – recipe cards, website posts – maybe even a cooking demo or video? These customers may typically have a lower spend per shop but will be sensitive to price so you may want to think about encouraging regular custom with a loyalty scheme.
Once you know your customer, think about the look and feel of your set up. Customers expect a small business to have an identity or personality, so think about what you stand for and how to express this – are you all about quality and freshness, great customer service, strong environmental principles, a stylish shopping experience? Whatever your business personality, find ways to tell your customers about it
Do you have local competition? It is a great idea to visit, to get an idea of what works for them and consider ways in which you may operate differently. Maybe even talk to them – although you are potential competition, if your product offerings are different you may be able recommend customers to each other, helping both customer satisfaction and retention, and your sales.
And don’t forget the food industry – if you can build up a loyal customer base with your local independent quality restaurants and cafes, you can start to create a two way relationship – if you provide great produce, they will want to tell their customers about its provenance, especially if you use your business to advertise theirs. Offer them information that they can share with their customers.
The integrity and reliability of the food supply chain has recently come into focus, initially through the ‘horsemeat’ scandal but more recently following issues in supply caused by covid and Brexit. This provides farm shops with a great opportunity – domestic and commercial customers are looking to source more reliable food outlets, as well as giving greater consideration to seasonal produce, and farm shops are uniquely placed to provide it.
Think about getting involved with your local community – food businesses who have found a way to interact with local groups and initiatives during the covid crisis have accessed new markets, built invaluable customer loyalty and found new opportunities for future businesses. Getting involved doesn’t necessarily mean giving away free product at every opportunity – it could mean providing premises, expertise or experiences.
Your farm shop may not be the most convenient food outlet for the majority of your customers, so consider ways to draw them in. You could provide space for local artisan producers or makers, who will use their own advertising channels to drive customers to you. Or you could create a local veg box scheme, that gives customers a small selection of your great produce – people buying this way are more likely to be receptive to your message, so they are a great audience to reach.
Do you have a farmers’ market in your area? Or maybe even a local market circuit? As well as a great ‘shop window’ for your products and an opportunity to talk to potential customers, it’s a great way to connect with other producers, who may be interested in using your produce or selling through their own outlets.