With many farmers markets around the U.S. shut down to respect the need for social distancing and decrease the spread of COVID-19, thousands of growers are left with no market and no options for their perishable products. Or, is there a market they haven’t tapped into just yet?
Jennie Schutte, owner of Pilaroc Farms (pronounced pile-a-rock) in Tennessee, was left with a lot of questions when she was told her family couldn’t sell their beef, pork and lamb cuts at their local farmers market anymore. She wasn’t about to let product and profit go down the drain and started virtually reaching out to prospects and customers.
“Social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, have been our bread and butter,” Schutte says. “We have a newsletter, too. All of our advertising is on social media. We push information constantly.”
Soon after citizens were told the U.S. was in a national emergency, supermarket shelves were stripped of essentials including meat, and Schutte started getting requests for delivery. Many of these customers were new, and they quickly wiped out her inventory.
“I know other small businesses are struggling, but I’ve never been this busy,” she says. “We posted an announcement about delivery and it was shared 80 times—people saw it and said this is my chance to try it [Pilaroc Farms’ meat] and keep my family safe.”
Ground products are by-and-large the biggest sellers right now, but the company offers a wide array of cuts. With this recent, giant rush in orders, Schutte is pulling long days and nights to meet the needs of her new customer base.
Important factors to consider
If you’re facing potentially increased demand, new challenges like delivery and other unprecedented change, you need to think ahead to prepare.
- Manage inventory accurately. With online shopping or phone orders, unlike at a farmers market, you can’t see when customers pick up and buy a product. You’ll need to use some sort of organization system to make sure you can deliver on promises and that your inventory backs it up. Schutte uses Excel.
- Communicate expectations. For Schutte, even if cattle are ready to slaughter, it takes an additional 14 to 21 days after butchering to achieve the dry-aging quality they use. While her current inventory is being gobbled up, she has to communicate with her butcher and customers to let them know about what’s going on behind the scenes, in case of shortages.
- Make new rules. Schutte uses what she calls a “mobile meat wagon.” It’s like a food truck, but instead of tacos you buy refrigerated, raw meat. The vehicle allows Schutte to reach customers, without having a brick-and-mortar building. Some customers aren’t opting for personal delivery and want to look through supplies in the wagon. Schutte says that’s fine, but with COVID-19 concerns, she has implemented a one-family-only policy for the trailer, and she wears gloves to help protect her customers and herself.
You might have to think outside the box, but consumers are still demanding fresh products they find at farmers markets. See what you can do online and via telephone to meet your customers’ needs while protecting your profit.
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