over-the-fence

Over the fence: A business with a story generates success

Ever wondered how you can make more money from your small farm?

Have you considered cutting out the middlemen, moving down the supply chain, building a brand and selling your high quality, better tasting produce directly to buyers?

Creating a brand and selling produce to the end consumer, or as close as possible, has long been a way of increasing small farm revenue. With a new generation concerned with ‘green’ change, we’re seeing an increase in demand for premium produce from a short supply chain.

This month, I’ve lined up advice from experienced premium producers Huon Valley Berkshires and SageBeef to help get you get started, or refine your current strategy.

But before jumping into sustainability, performance, profit and brand integrity, I want to highlight why consumers are buying this tucker, and how that may affect your brand.

Humans love a good story, and this desire for an engaging yarn starts at an early age — when we become hooked on bedtime stories. We buy into brands, vote on a leader’s vision and stuff ourselves with social media. We connect with the teller, the roles, the characters and, of course, the story itself.

This is one main reason why some people buy from small, ethical or premium producers. Those buyers prefer the story and even the experience of buying.

Farmers’ markets and farm gates are a stark contrast in experience to large supermarkets. With their fluorescent lights, lino aisles and lack of stories, the major retailers don’t justify paying premium prices.

These two boutique branded small farm owners, share their tricks to building a brand — what to do, what not to do and what to look out for.

Huon Valley Berkshires

Damien and Lillian Reardon produce premium quality APIQ-certified free-range Berkshire pork in Tasmania’s beautiful Huon Valley. They raise their Berkshires in a natural environment, with access to pasture, warm shelters, mud wallows, fresh water and the freedom to behave naturally for their entire lives.

This is how they describe their farming practices to consumers: certified free-range, 100 percent natural, GMO Free, hormone free, antibiotic free, no teeth clipping, no nose rings, no tail docking, no castration.

Damien and Lillian’s advice:

  • Go that extra step to give your brand or produce an edge over others, although it may seem hard or not worthwhile initially, it will pay off in the long run. 
  • Expand at a sustainable level and maintain your integrity. Don’t buy in products just to meet orders, you will lose product consistency and risk your reputation. Remember: You can shear a sheep many times, but only skin him once. 
  • Don’t cut corners on anything. Period. Like we said before, maintain your integrity and remember why you started what you are doing. Chances are it wasn’t to cut corners and make a quick buck. 
  • Your branding is the first impression you give people, so budget properly for professional graphic design. Too many small producers use stock images from the internet in their logos and it looks unoriginal and not engaging.

Our logo features the silhouette of one of our own sows. She has a name and is part of our herd, not just a pig we found on Google images. These have turned out to be the key mantras we keep coming back to when we review our business planning.

Sagebeef

Chris Balazs runs SageBeef at Bannockburn, north of Geelong, supplying his own and other farmers’ premium beef and lamb from livestock raised in stress-free environments.

SageBeef sells directly to the public through an on-farm artisan butchery.

Chris controls every aspect of the supply chain, from farm to fork, to connect customers with where their food comes from. SageBeef is transparent about how they work, who they partner with and the steps taken to ensure their cattle and sheep are in the best care.

Chris’ advice:

  • Control as much of the supply chain as you can, from farm to fork. This way the quality and integrity of your brand can be maintained and protected. 
  • Enter into a relationship with a reputable processor and butcher. Don’t go cheap — you get what you pay for. Maintaining the quality of your produce from cuts through to handling will be an integral part of your brand. 
  • Diversify your sales channels. We sell our produce through seven channels, and experience has taught us the hard way that having all your eggs in one basket is dangerous. Farmers’ markets, restaurants, provedores, online and our own store all reduce the risk of all our revenue being in one basket.”

Final word

Remember, the food small farm owners produce can be labelled superior for many reasons. Small farm breeds are usually bred for flavour, not weight gain or durability in transport. And that’s part of the story if you choose to tell it.

People prefer food that was grown for a greater good, a better life for the animal and better eating experience, not just a business outcome for the seller.

People prefer small. So be sure to sell your carefully crafted story. For many, building a business based on the above is worth the effort.

 

By Sam Trethewey
General Manager – Agri Innovation