Farmers succeed with direct marketing | State and Region

Delivering pre-ordered agricultural products directly to consumers could be the wave of the future. At least it’s in southern Illinois.

Organizations such as the Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers, commonly referred to as LEAF, provide ready-to-use markets for farmers and consumers with locally grown fresh food. It’s a win-win, according to Jennifer Paulsen.

“I think that’s the direction things are going,” said Paulsen, executive director of Food Works, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable agriculture in the region. “It will definitely grow.”

LEAF is made up of approximately 20 farmers who have come together to market products directly to consumers in six southern Illinois counties.

“We are organized like an LLC and operate like a cooperative,” said Liz DeRuntz, COO of LEAF.

The group serves approximately 350 customers in six counties. Food is pre-ordered on its website, and customers get their food from pick-up points scattered throughout the region. Farmers provide a wide variety of produce, including fruits, vegetables, bison, mushrooms, and honey.

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Yesteryear Meats has a similar marketing strategy. The business consists of delivering pre-ordered beef and pork directly to customers’ residences. Using complex routing software streamlines the operation and makes it potentially cost effective.

“We started looking at the market and how things work, and I felt the auction was for the birds,” said Steve Young, who along with his brother Dave finishes off Holstein cattle on a farm in the southeast Missouri. “There’s no money in it.”

The company uses a marketing model similar to that used by national frozen food company Schwan’s. The Youngs travel weekly routes in parts of four states, making stops at customers’ homes for delivery. In addition to the beef, they offer pork packages provided by a friend who raises pigs in Missouri.

As with LEAF, everything is pre-ordered online. Deliveries are made on Wednesdays. The Youngs take two routes that wind through parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, all the way into the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The Youngs grew up on what Steve calls a hobby farm operated by their father, Dave Sr., who owned a few cows. Memories of the quality of the country’s beef have stuck with him.

“It’s the best beef I’ve ever had,” Young said. “I was 22 before I ate a steak at a restaurant that was better than what I had at home, and it was a $50 steak.”

Groups such as LEAF and Yesteryear Meats provide a vital service to rural areas, many of which are food deserts. It’s ironic, says Paulsen.

“In these rural areas, we don’t have much access to food,” she said. “It’s strange to be in an agricultural area and not yet have so many opportunities to grow food in your area. There was a huge demand. »

Although LEAF offers home delivery, most products are sent to a central location in each region, usually a company parking lot. Those who pre-ordered arrive at a pre-arranged time and receive their wares. Charges are added for direct delivery.

At Yesteryear Meats, all orders are home delivered. Young originally offered the meat wrappers for sale at various retail establishments. But COVID has led to the innovation of home delivery to customers who have pre-ordered various packages offered by the company.

“We started doing deliveries and realized that the delivery game was working really well,” Young said. “They pay a premium. We probably don’t charge as much as we should. These deliveries are profitable on an individual basis, but we have not made a profit on the whole operation. We have trucks, freezers and other things to pay off.

He credits the routing software for the efficiency of the races. Each address is connected to the program and it calculates the best routes between the two trucks making deliveries.

“I just press a button and it gives me a map to my next destination,” Young said.

Food Works partners with LEAF to enable low-income customers to accept payments through SNAP (USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Additionally, the organization is working with Chicago-based Experimental Station to use its Linkup Illinois initiative, in which consumers in need receive dollar-for-dollar matching for SNAP payments made to purchase locally grown food items.

Most of the farmers participating in LEAF still market their produce at farmers’ markets, as does Young. But the pre-order delivery model offers efficiency.

“With the traditional farmer’s market, they have to guess how much to take,” DeRuntz said. “Because we’re technology-based, they know on Tuesday what they need to take with them on Thursday. There are no losses if you don’t sell something.

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