Direct to Consumer Market Research on Whole Grains, Legumes & Oilseeds

Progress report for FNC21-1259

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Beautiful Beard Grain Farm
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Robert Barbeau
Beautiful Beard Grain Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

I started Beautiful Beard Grain Farm as a project in 2014, and have been focused on sustainable agriculture the whole time. I have interplanted clover everywhere I've been. I've saved seed from an heirloom Rye variety, which I hand harvested for the last time in 2020. Now it's planted on 15 acres. I try to minimize tillage and have integrated a 6 year crop rotation growing in the order of oilseed, grain, legume. I have been farming in Lake City on 51 leased acres since 2020. I have converted all of these acres from either conventional corn/soy or derelict cattle pasture into organic field crop production, and 41 will be certifiable in 2022. In 2022 we are growing heirloom rye, fiber hemp, field peas, soft red winter wheat, yellow mustard seed, soft white winter wheat, pinto beans, and durum wheat.

Summary:

Small and beginning grain farmers will find it hard to compete on pricing when selling to an elevator or processor. Because farmers tend to be price takers and not price makers, there is little room and a lot of risk for new farmers to enter grain markets. Beautiful Beard Grain Farm seeks to create, test and refine a direct marketing strategy to promote the growth of the local grain economy. Between February 2021 and July 2021, we will be conducting surveys of farmers’ market patrons, as well as putting out a call for focus group participants. We will partner with a local chef to design several recipes for grain, oilseed, and legume crops. Then, we will host three focus groups with survey participants to gain feedback on the chef-developed recipes. With this data, we will develop and execute a marketing strategy for the 2021 growing season. We plan to evaluate project success by comparing profit margins between our direct to consumer marketing methods and commodity based marketing methods. A Marketing Strategy Report will be produced and distributed to other farmers in the North Central Region.

Project Objectives:

Research marketability of locally grown whole grains selected from Beautiful Beard Grain Farm’s organic cropping plan and their appeal to key early adopter demographics, including farmers market patrons, CSA customers, co-op customers, and other local-minded consumers, by conducting initial surveys. 

Partner with a chef to create approachable recipes to make the process of direct to consumer grain marketing easier for all grain farmers. 

Lead three focus groups to gather data on consumer trends. Present prepared recipes to focus group participants and gather feedback.

Develop strategies for farmers to utilize by producing a Direct to Consumer Grain Marketing Strategy Report. 

Research

Materials and methods:

We will be using an online survey tool that will be shared via social media, in-person at various farmers markets throughout the greater Twin Cities, as well as distributing flyers with the link to the survey to various cooperative and independent food stores. The survey will ask consumers about the grains they consume, how they use them, the numbers of times per month they purchase whole grains, and what features they would look for in a package of whole grains. Using this feedback, we can begin to gauge consumer awareness and interest in specific whole grains.

We will conduct three focus groups with 6 different individuals per group to gather insights on positioning whole grains, legumes, and oilseeds as household products. We will recruit the participants from survey respondents. The focus group will be run by Marketing Strategist and Beautiful Beard Grain Farm and be broken into two segments over 4 hours. First, the group will be asked a series of questions about their familiarity with purchasing and cooking whole grains, legumes, and oilseeds. Second, the focus groups will be served a meal prepared by the partner chef with selected grains, oilseeds, and legumes and asked about their comments on the foods as prepared. The focus of the questions will include inquiry on the ways customers would prefer to purchase (i.e independent grocer, online, farmers market, CSA, etc.), as well as the advantage of these particular grains compared to similar household products.

The Marketing Strategist will work with Beautiful Beard Grain Farm to develop a market strategy for sales of 2021 crops. They will analyze sales data and consumer response to the marketing strategies to develop a Market Strategy Report. The Market Strategy Report will be freely distributed to other farmers via organizations and social media.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We have so far only communicated the project with the 11 focus group participants. We are planning to work with one more group using crops grown this year in 2022. We hope to present a poster at MOSES 2023, distribute the Direct Marketing Report through the various organic and sustainable non-profits, and on the farm website.

Learning Outcomes

1 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We have learned three key strategies: Work with existing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations to supply an off-season grain legume and oilseed add-on package. This would self-identify early adopters and allow for more discussion with these important customers. A second strategy is to provide smaller packages and assemble sample packs for customers to ease their way into our products. Recipes and instructions on how to use that are educational and entertaining are critical here. Pricing in the market is widely varied, and we can sell organic certified whole grains grown locally at a high price point and still expect to sell out of our products designated direct-to-consumer within 6 months. Third strategy that has been elucidated so far is that it may be safest to slowly approach end consumers by working with processors and producers. That is, securing wholesale accounts with critical business partners will present our brand to a wider market than direct marketing alone could. These partners will include malthouses, bakeries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, and other farmers.

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Recommendations:

A whole study could be done on purchasing and use habits of consumers of whole grains, legumes, and oilseeds.

Information Products

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.