Ten months after the start of the pandemic, more and more people are buying food directly from farmers. Studies from Dalhousie University indicate that 4.7 percent of Canadians have done so since the start of last year and the trend is expected to continue.
This is good news for Lorin Doerksen to Gem Grass-Fed Beef from Gem, Alberta. He and his brother, father and uncle began marketing their beef directly before the pandemic began. The family has a purebred cattle business and was developing forage genetics that seemed to lend themselves well to grass-fed beef.
“The tipping point was really that we had a local processor who was marketing free-range pork in Calgary,” Doerksen said during a Red Bow Ranching Conference webinar. “They had their own processing plant and they were starting to see a demand for grass-fed beef.”
They thought it would be easy, Doerksen said.
This was not the case.
But they persevered by working with a marketing company, determining their target audience, and listening to potential clients’ goals that include healthy eating, concern for the environment, and animal welfare.
“I think the opportunity for direct marketing exists because of the growing number of consumers who are motivated to buy direct from the source. … They want to source locally. We’re also seeing local popping up in many big grocery chains… but it’s not just local. People want the story behind the food.
The barriers to successful sales also need to be recognized, Doerksen said.
“The customer basically has to be looking for you. They probably wait longer to get the product than they would have if they were shopping at the grocery store and, in the end, they pay more.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon that they’re willing to do it, so I think the challenge with direct marketing is how do you make that experience as easy as possible for the customer? “
Gemstone does this by using social media, including Instagram and Facebook, providing an easy online payment system, and distributing a monthly newsletter.
The biggest challenge is inventory management, which they first solved by offering custom cuts only on whole and halves, but not on quarters. The latter results in weird cuts, Doerksen said.
Later they came up with boxes of mixed cuts, all vacuum-packed, frozen, and shipped straight from their processor.
Pricing for different cuts can be tricky.
“Do not use the scale. You will lose a few hundred dollars, ”he advised.
Orders can be unpredictable and selling in multiple streams, such as restaurants or grocery stores, can alleviate this problem. Everything must be taken into account in the business plan.
While it may seem less effective to market this way, Doerksen said it is effective in allowing people to have a connection with the seller and the farm.
Ben Campbell, who markets beef directly from his farm called Grazed Right near Black Diamond, Alta., Noted that grass-fed animals are slaughtered at an older age because they take longer to finish. This is in addition to the production costs, which must also be factored into the plans.
However, the ability for customers to connect with him, as the person raising the animals, is important. This allows her to talk about the process and lets customers see that they are supporting a family business that produces food.
“Being the real deal is, I think, the key to direct marketing.”