Consumer-Driven Marketing

Final Report for ENE02-070

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $40,503.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Tom McConnell
West Virginia University
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Project Information

Summary:

This professional development grant funded a three day workshop, field trips, and the development of a web site that is preparing 50 agricultural professionals, 10 farmer leaders and 10 agricultural science students to teach their neighbors and constituents how to establish and maintain a consumer driven production and marketing system. The goal of the training is to enhance the sustainability of small farmers and their communities by increasing the profitability of their farms and developing locally controlled and financed value adding and distributing allied businesses.

Also, while integrating a consumer sensitive mentality to the production environment this activity will teach producers how to, first envision marketing directly to a consumer and then to take that initial planning step and ultimately, expand an agricultural production operation into an agricultural business that produces and markets food and fiber in a consumer driven environment. Those who attended learned about the potential for marketing agricultural production to the final consumer.

This training allowed those participating to learn about the business and planning side (starting with the farmer’s dream) of several successful operations and hear about and see many successful production and marketing communities. There were classes on small business planning, borrowing money, successful community-farmer synergies, and laws specific to value-adding agricultural enterprises, and specific training for processing agricultural products.

And last, the workshop presenters will help develop a web site that will serve as an information center and planning template for consumer driven production and marketing initiatives. This will be maintained by the Center for Agriculture, Forestry, and Community Development at West Virginia University.

Performance Target:

Of the 70 professionals enrolling in the training, 20 will learn enough to feel comfortable advising and directing farmers and businessmen and women and who want to make the transition to a consumer driven enterprise.

Twenty farmers and professionals will become members of a standing committee that can manage the flow of ideas and will retrieve and share new information about consumer driven enterprises; thirty will be sufficiently sensitized to the topic to know where to refer questions and where to direct people needing help. The balance will learn to refer to the task force or web site.

Eight farmers or communities in the first year will actually use the information presented by the newly trained faculty and recently created web site to start their transition from being a commodity producer into a consumer sensitive production and marketing endeavor. Although our ability to monitor was compromised we have learned anecdotally that many more that 8 farmers and professionals used the site to assist a beginner toward his or her goal.

Three hundred producers who are currently producing in a commodity environment will visit the web site annually for consumer driven production and marketing information.

Introduction:

As a farmer’s mindset changes from a commodity producer to one where he sees himself as producing food for his neighbors, this process that requires much study as the subject matter is unfamiliar and technical. Making that transition requires a whole new list of licenses, regulations, rules, networks, deadlines etc. The volume of the information required and the regulations that must be understood by the consumer minded producer adds to the enormity of the project and may collectively dissuade him or her from taking that next step. It goes without saying that the creativity and enthusiasm diminishes with each layer of regulations the farmer encounters.

This project is about the development of a communication system that, as it utilizes both the practitioner and professional, develops into a support and mentoring network. The goal is a three sided network of professional advisors, experienced consumer driven marketers, and those who are in the process of changing. The network will be served by an electronic web-based resource for use by its members to share but more importantly, it will become a medium where the community may nurture and mentor each newcomer, as they grow toward their goals. And last, it will become a place any agricultural professional, regardless of his interest or understanding in consumer driven marketing, may point a client to; where the information is reliable, dependable, and credible.

The premise for this Consumer Driven Marketing grant is based on where and how farmers get their information. This is what we know: Professionals with knowledge of, or interest in, a particular subject will respond to questions about that subject with enthusiasm and accuracy. The reverse is also true where it’s only human nature to lack enthusiasm about a subject that is not of interest or in the professional’s purview. So if a farmer with a particular question asks two agricultural professionals– one with a great understanding and interest and the other, just the opposite–he will receive two differing responses. One would be expected to be positive and the other could be negative, skeptical or even non-supportive.

Farmers usually migrate toward other farmers for their first level of information. They seem to trust the response from a farmer because he feels the farmer possesses all those personal emotions, experiences, as well as, the “nuts and bolts” information gained only by “living it.”
Farmers, the professionals who advise them, and their ancillary business associates would benefit from and use a “consumer sensitive, rather than the commodity driven” oriented source of information that would serve as the one location. In this report we will share our work.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ed Grose
  • Jeanie Smith

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

First we recruited an advisory team of farmers, professionals, and other folks who are currently producing and marketing in a consumer context. Some of the members advise and support consumer driven marketers on a daily basis. Others are currently successfully managing their own businesses. One member produces goat cheese and markets nationally and internationally. Another farm couple has grown and marketed potatoes for over 50 years. They have been active in the direct movement in West Virginia movement in West Virginia for 30 years. Another team member has worked with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture marketing division for 25 years.

This advisory committee was well versed with the grant and had plenty to suggest for smooth operation and a successful venture. This group met twice before anything else was attempted. We addressed how to reach our audience and what to do with them once we got them. The committee also made the point that getting busy “upstart entrepreneurs” to many meetings was going to be nearly impossible and we should minimize that aspect of the program and make sure the web page and support circle was in place and functional. The group wanted this venture to be successful. They played an active and engaged role in the development of the web based resource center.

The development of the web site was next. We started with our advisory committee first and asked them to share their needs as they related to getting started. They responded with a list of questions. A sample follows:

Which applications did they have trouble finding?

How do you write a business plan?

How do you get a loan?

How do you pay it back?

Who can we hire to add value to your crop?

These questions served as the outline of the web site.

Next we asked the agricultural marketing and agency people to help “connect the dots” with actual web sites that would answer these start-up questions. A sample would include:

The office of the secretary of state will provide a form to file as a corporation.

The state tax office will provide a farm use valuation form and a sales tax clarification.

The state insurance association can help you find the right agent and help you understand how liability you might need.

The regulations associated with selling meat will be found with the county health department and the state department of agriculture.

We began to fill in the blanks and actually make the contacts to be sure they would open and provide the information the farmers needed.
So we went about developing product related information and regulation tracks of many crops we anticipated our clientele would need. This enabled the web site to assume a leadership role as well as information source as the site would help the potential marketer know which questions should be asked.

We then conducted our three day conference for Consumer Driven Marketing. The program featured presentations from 10 marketers from nearly every aspect of West Virginia Agriculture. They shared their histories, ambitions, and current operating procedure. They took time to discuss the transition from when they had an idea to the present. They shared their failures, challenges, and successes. Some presenters seemed to be just as excited about their ventures as they were when they started while others exuded a sense of accomplishment and sent a message, “that it can be done but they weren’t so sure they would do it again.” The conference attendees many of whom served on the advisory committee were called upon to review the web page progress and help further its direction.

Next was the field trip exercise of the grant. This activity veered from the original plan somewhat as the advisory committee suggested that any potential marketers be given scholarships to other training opportunities; one conference of note was the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Conference held annually in Charleston We sponsored 8 farmers to that conference. Next we sent 38 growers to the Farmers’ Market in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. This exercise exposed our committee members and many new growers to an agricultural marketing opportunity that many are missing. This was the essence of consumer driven marketing.

Last we have begun the process of creating a team of consumer sensitive marketers, and professionals who are serving as the wise council for the farmers who want to make this change.

The web presence will provide the factual support in a convenient format and the team of advisors will serve to mentor or at least provide a voice of experience.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

1) We did indeed select a committee who has accepted full responsibility for and ownership of for this project and have contributed much. In fact, the committee serves as the core of the mentorship program; again some as professionals and others as farmers.

2) We did conduct a very successful workshop and the presenter list included a wide variety of “marketers who farm” and “farmers who market,” as well as, many professionals who have played an important role with our mentoring team. We felt the presentations yielded through interpretation a common unspoken understanding of our mission and just important it is. One team member and presenter’s presentation was entitled “Fifty Years of Growing and Direct Marketing Potatoes.”

3) The original advisory team with a few additions became our 20-member task force. The task force now has a majority of bureaucrats versus farmers probably because that is our job and we feel we are at the point in this project were we deliver or administer the program and the farmers are now in an advisory and mentoring role.

4) We have met regularly and ad hoc to decide how we should refine and improve the web page. It has not served the vital role we expected it to – yet. We have encountered many problems with the content and the quality of the web site. This has taken as much time as the rest of the project. Many suggest that we want it to be more than it needs to be. Our goal is for it to serve as the one accurate and informative constant in this project. We will post profiles of marketers, as well as, other historical and educational pieces that pertain to other relevant consumer sensitive topics.

5) We have profiled a farmer’s development from grower to marketer.

Farmer 1- Profile
The Value of Apples
Background
The program got its start when the farmer was focused on making money by utilizing his apples that could not be sold due to hail damage. Rather than market all the apples as apple butter the team suggested an alternative we suggested was converting all the damaged apples into multiple apple based products to supplement his income.

This farmer was identified by an agent and his situation was turned over to the mentoring team and resulted in his adding value to an apple crop. The production was to determine a price of several in-house recipes indicated the profitability of value adding damaged fruit by putting it in to jarred products. Further opportunities were suggested such as chocolate covered apples, Pumpkin apples and Christmas Ornament apples, or even a pouched apple to be used as a topping or pie filling and an apple bundt cake.

Significant Results/Effective Communication
Total dollar sales reports are not complete for 2004. Orders for the Christmas Ornament apples are being shipped every day. The profitability of the orchard has overcome the adverse impact of the hail which makes the customer extremely happy and profitable. It may serve as a model for other orchardists in the area.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

The web site is posted but will never be finished. Our team members have claimed ownership and are constantly suggesting improvements. It is not where we want it to be. We have not yet followed the enterprise tracts for specific information delivery but we will get there soon. Our farmers and agents are indeed using the site. Just as we planned the agents are happy to be able to turn to one source of reliable information pertaining to getting started with their consumer sensitive production and marketing. At a recent extension agent meeting the page became a topic and was critiqued. Several suggestions were made but it received unanimous agreement from the agents as the place to start their clients. The development process of the site solidified the relationship between the professionals from West Virginia University and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture /Marketing Division. This team approach has yielded some discussion and planning for other training opportunities.

The mentoring team is in place and has been for some time but the membership has changed. Some new folks learn of it and soon become a resource while others don’t participate and drift away, but the process is working.

Thirty-three West Virginia University Extension agents, 8 West Virginia Department of Agriculture personnel, 5 lenders, and 12 committee members participated in the Consumer Driven Marketing workshop. There twelve successful farmer/marketers demonstrated to the professionals attending that they possessed a tremendous gift of experience that they could share with the hopeful consumer sensitive marketers and the process could serve as a model.
Our group has been joined by 24 farmers needing value adding support. We have experienced problems with our web page and don’t have an accurate count but will start again in January 2005.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

1) We did indeed select a committee who has accepted full responsibility for and ownership of for this project and have contributed much. In fact, the committee serves as the core of the mentorship program; again some as professionals and others as farmers.

2) We did conduct a very successful workshop and the presenter list included a wide variety of “marketers who farm” and “farmers who market,” as well as, many professionals who have played an important role with our mentoring team. We felt the presentations yielded through interpretation a common unspoken understanding of our mission and just important it is. One team member and presenter’s presentation was entitled “Fifty Years of Growing and Direct Marketing Potatoes.”

3) The original advisory team with a few additions became our 20-member task force. The task force now has a majority of bureaucrats versus farmers probably because that is our job and we feel we are at the point in this project were we deliver or administer the program and the farmers are now in an advisory and mentoring role.

4) We have met regularly and ad hoc to decide how we should refine and improve the web page. It has not served the vital role we expected it to – yet. We have encountered many problems with the content and the quality of the web site. This has taken as much time as the rest of the project. Many suggest that we want it to be more than it needs to be. Our goal is for it to serve as the one accurate and informative constant in this project. We will post profiles of marketers, as well as, other historical and educational pieces that pertain to other relevant consumer sensitive topics.

5) We have profiled a farmer’s development from grower to marketer.

Farmer 1- Profile
The Value of Apples
Background
The program got its start when the farmer was focused on making money by utilizing his apples that could not be sold due to hail damage. Rather than market all the apples as apple butter the team suggested an alternative we suggested was converting all the damaged apples into multiple apple based products to supplement his income.

This farmer was identified by an agent and his situation was turned over to the mentoring team and resulted in his adding value to an apple crop. The production was to determine a price of several in-house recipes indicated the profitability of value adding damaged fruit by putting it in to jarred products. Further opportunities were suggested such as chocolate covered apples, Pumpkin apples and Christmas Ornament apples, or even a pouched apple to be used as a topping or pie filling and an apple bundt cake.

Significant Results/Effective Communication
Total dollar sales reports are not complete for 2004. Orders for the Christmas Ornament apples are being shipped every day. The profitability of the orchard has overcome the adverse impact of the hail which makes the customer extremely happy and profitable. It may serve as a model for other orchardists in the area.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

A mentoring and support system is in place. It is not yet exactly what we want it to be but people are referring farmers to the support team. Agents are keeping up with the web page and we are sure we have accomplished our goal of developing a support system of experienced marketers and informed professionals who are assisted by an accurate and useful electronic information source. West Virginia University will maintain the website and continue to collaborate with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

We feel as we continue to promote this resource, being defined as both human and electronic the resource will be more. We find that many of the experienced marketers are very happy to get involved with some of the beginners; it appears that a voice with experience and maturity seems to calm them as guide them through rather than just give them the directions. We now have developed a secondary support system of lenders and venture capital managers who are anxious to hear and read about new ideas floating around.
Farmers and county agents and other agricultural professionals should, when hearing of a farmer who is considering making the transition to a more consumer sensitive marketing plan refer them to our site- first. Many have.

The web site may be found on the WVU Extension Sustainable Agriculture web page at http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/sustanag/index.htm or http:///WWW.consumerdrivenmarketing.com

Future Recommendations

I felt we needed more structure to the content of the webpage and program direction from the start. I tried to really listen to the group and allow them to actually influence the finished product; as a result I experienced great difficulty is “getting a rope around” the content. Getting creative people to actually visualize an endpoint can be very frustrating.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.