Direct Marketing of Missouri Katahdin Lamb

Project Overview

FNC00-333
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $7,989.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $9,869.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Michael and Cherie’ Seipel – our operation consists of 100 owned acres (50 acres fenced in 15 paddocks for rotational grazing; 30 acres of permanent hay ground; 20 acres timber) and 35 rented acres (hay and pasture). Enterprises are Katahdin sheep breeding stock, feeder and slaughter lamb sales, and cow/calf production in a management intensive rotational grazing system. Primary labor provided by husband, wife and two young daughters. Hourly labored hired as needed to help with fence building, hay hauling, etc.

    Other collaborating producers raise Katahdin breeding stock, feeder lambs, and slaughter lambs production in primarily pasture based production systems; one producer has a corn/soybean/wheat row crop operation.

    We had been practicing rotational grazing for one year before receiving this grant.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    Project goals:
    – To increase consumer awareness, appreciation, and consumption of lamb, specifically Katahdin lamb
    – To create profitable direct marketing opportunities for Katahdin lamb producers.
    – To increase contact and information exchange between sheep producers and lamb consumers
    – To develop a marketing brochure that can serve as a template for other sheep producers and with greater modification, other livestock producers (beef, swine).

    Planned Actions:
    To accomplish our project goals, we proposed to complete the following actions:
    – Bring together collaborators and other interested producers to discuss direct-marketing strategies and decide on the basic content for a lamb marketing brochure.
    – Develop a polished marketing brochure promoting Katahdin lamb, targeted to restaurants/chefs and consumers purchasing directly from producers and to make this brochure available in template form to other producers.
    – Sponsor cooking classes/demonstrations and lamb tasting events to educate consumers on how to easily prepare lamb
    – Hire a part time marketing coordinator to design and develop the marketing brochure, conduct consumer surveys, help organize cooking classes and assist in coordinating direct marketing efforts of producers in different areas of Missouri.

    Process:
    The first step taken was to bring together the five collaborating producers to discuss each producer’s goals for the project and to develop a job description and list of desired qualifications for the marketing coordinator position. The marketing coordinator, Katie Dallam, was hired and traveled to each producer’s farm to learn more about their operations and develop ideas for the marketing brochure. The marketing coordinator developed a design for the marketing brochure and helped plan and carry out the first lamb tasting event. When the original marketing coordinator completed her bachelor’s degree and took a full time position, it was necessary to undertake another job search and interview process for another coordinator. A second coordinator, Kim Viers, was hired and completed the design of the marketing brochure and helped conduct a second and third tasting event. When Kim eventually left for a full time position, we were unable to hire another suitable marketing coordinator. Responsibility for planning and executing the additional cooking classes and tasting fell to the project collaborators (producers).

    People:
    Darla Campbell, Agricultural Business specialist from the University Outreach and Extension was involved in helping write a job description and conduct interviews for the marketing coordinator position, in brochure design, and in providing outreach opportunities (2001 AgriExpo).

    Bruce Lance, Livestock Specialist from University Outreach and Extension helped provide outreach opportunities through the 2001 and 2002 Missouri Livestock Symposia.

    Tom Marshall, Professor of Agriculture at Truman State University, helped in developing a focus for the direct marketing effort, interviewing for the marketing coordinator position, food preparation for the tasting events, and data analysis of feedback forms from the tasting events.

    Other Katahdin producers that were not among the original collaborators, particularly Nancy and Arthur Case and Mac Allen Edwards, became involved in supporting the grant by donating lamb for an exhibition a the livestock symposium, helping prepare and serve lamb at this event, distributing the marketing brochure at Katahdin exhibitions and working to build on this grant by getting Katahdin lamb introduced with a natural foods wholesaler.

    Results:
    Marketing Brochure:
    A major focus of our grant was to develop a brochure, which would promote the unique attributes of Katahdin lamb in colorful, visually attractive format and could be used locally by each of the five collaborating producers. The brochure development involved input from all collaborating producers, as well as consumer review and feedback. Consumer input was very helpful in shifting the focus of the brochure from producer-focused information to a more graphic format with increased consumer appeal. The overall message of our brochure is that purchasing natural Katahdin lamb from the farmer offers consumers “a choice that matters” in their food buying. The brochure is organized around three attributes of Katahdin lamb: local, natural and delicious. The brochure was printed in January 2002. Copies have been distributed to the five collaborating producers for use in their direct marketing efforts. Additional copies have been made available to all members of the Missouri Katahdin Producers Association (MoKats) and the Midwest Katahdin Hair Sheep Association (MKHSA). Brochures have been used as part of displays by these organizations at the Small Farm Conference and Trade Show, Missouri Livestock Symposium and World Sheep Festival. Brochures are made available at USDA-inspected processing plant Special D Meats in Macon, MO and the brochure rack is empty each time that I visit Special D. The brochure template is being made available to other producers via the web (see Outreach section).

    Nutritional Analysis:
    In order to have scientific data to establish the nutritional benefits of Katahdin lamb, so that this information could be used in marketing activities, grant funds paid for a nutritional analysis by the University of Missouri. Collaborating producers provided rib chop samples from six lambs for the analysis. The analysis showed that Katahdin lamb had fat and cholesterol levels significantly lower than conventional lamb and comparable to chicken breast. A copy of the nutritional analysis was included with the mid-term progress report and is summarized in the enclosed marketing brochure.

    Tastings and Other Promotional Events:
    We conducted several events to allow consumers to taste and learn about the nutritional and environmental benefits of Katahdin lamb. The marketing coordinator for the grant put together a general guide for the producers with suggestions for planning and conducting tasting events and a form to gather feedback from attendees.
    – A picnic-style tasting was held in Kirksville, Missouri in April 2001. The theme was “Grilling for Spring.” Eighteen adults and six children sampled lamb kabobs, grilled lamb chops, lamb bratwurst, and a Greek dish of ground lamb. Feedback was collected from attendees, with seven completed surveys submitted. All respondents rated the sustainable agriculture presentation and cooking demonstrations as excellent and all reported that they were more likely to prepare lamb in their home as a result of the demonstration and tasting.
    – John and Darla Noble conducted a lamb tasting at the Phelps County Fair in July 2001. Fairgoers sampled lamb meatballs and gave very favorable feedback on the flavor.
    – Hickory Hollow Farms grilled lamb bratwurst and hosted an educational display at the first Northeast Missouri Food Fest in Kirksville, Missouri in September 2001. We gave away 200 one once samples of bratwurst and had 42 people fill out forms requesting more information on purchasing Katahdin lamb. A follow up mailing produced four new lamb customers.
    – Barbara Hurst conducted a tasting at her farm in Ava, Missouri in November 2001. Twenty attendees sampled a variety of dishes including leg of lamb, lamb chops, and ground lamb.
    – Hickory Hollow Farms donated and prepared 120 lamb bratwursts for a governor’s style luncheon at the Northeast Missouri Livestock Expo on December 1, 2001 as part of this grant. Over 500 attendees ate at the buffet luncheon, and approximately 200 sampled the lamb brats. This event also featured an outreach component, as the grant collaborators hosted a booth at the Expo’s trade show, detailing the activities of this grant and the general benefits of Katahdin sheep.
    – Michael and Cherie’s Seipel (Hickory Hollow Farms) conducted cooking demonstrations and tastings on March 1 and March 2, 2002 in Kirksville, MO. The March 1 event was attended by 23 people and the March 2 event was attended by 25 people (despite a major snowstorm). Professional chef Julie Ridlon was hired to do recipe preparation and demonstration for these events. Attendees received recipes and preparation demonstrations for Lamb Chops with garlic and rosemary, Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Spinach and Feta and North African Ground Lamb in Phyllo. Survey data were collected at the event. 35% of attendees reported that they prepared lamb in their home only rarely; 50% prepared it sometimes, and 15% prepared if often. 93% reported that they planned to prepare it more often after the tasting event. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), attendees gave the following mean ratings: quality of cooking demo (4.6), quality of sustainable ag presentation (4.6), ground lamb dish (4.6), lamb chops (4.6) and leg of lamb (4.6).
    – David Coplen hosted four tastings with attendance of 25 to 30 people at each event. Two focused on grilling a whole lamb in primal cuts, one featured lamb sausage, and one centered on grilling spare ribs. Attendees gave favorable feedback on the tasting, with several guests commenting that they didn’t think they liked lamb until they tasted that prepared for this event.
    – Hickory Hollow Farm grilled 100 lamb bratwurst for the 2nd annual Northeast Missouri FoodFest in Kirksville, MO in September 2002. Approximately 250 people attended the event and many people sampled the bratwurst, took a copy of the marketing brochure, and/or asked for information about the SARE grant and marketing project.
    – Hickory Hollow Farm and Mac Edwards donated lamb bratwurst (120 each) for the 2002 Missouri Livestock Symposium. Michael Seipel, Mac Edwards, David Coplen, Nancy Case, and Martha Wiegers prepared and served the brats for the Governor’s Style Luncheon. Over 500 attendees ate at the buffet luncheon and all 240 bratwurst were gone before everyone had gone through the line. Two grant outreach activities also took place at the symposium – a presentation by Michael Seipel and a display by MoKats and MKHSA.

    Discussion:
    We learned many lessons through the completion of this grant project.

    First, we learned valuable lessons about how potential consumers of sustainably produced foods might weight different product attributes in making purchasing decisions. Consumer feedback on the brochure helped us shift it from more of a producer orientation to emphasize concepts and use terminology of more importance and appeal to consumers.

    Second, as project coordinators, Cherie’ and Michael learned lessons about the challenges of carrying out a project with multiple farmer collaborators. It was much more challenging to get equal participation from geographically dispersed producers than we had imagined. If we undertook a similar project in the future we would want to have a more detailed up front understanding of what contributions would be made by each party.

    Third, we learned how much time and effort is required for direct marketing. For most producers, direct marketing will have to be one part of an overall marketing plan, and that has been true for us as well. The lessons we have learned through direct (to consumer) marketing are invaluable, and while it may never provide a market for a majority of our lamb or beef, the lessons it has taught us have made it more possible for us to think about catering to an institutional market, either individually or with a producer group.

    Fourth, we learned how central recruiting and retaining a good marketing coordinator is to a project like this, and how difficult it is to do this. We were very pleased with the work of the two marketing coordinators hired for the project, but they could not be expected to make a long term commitment given the coordinator’s salary and part time status and the point in their education/career paths at which they were situated. We would recommend to other producers that they have a likely coordinator identified before submitting a grant proposal, that the person be someone who is likely to commit for the life of the project, and that the salary budgeted be adequate to retain the person.

    The environmental impact associated with this project was indirect and mainly tied to the extent to which improved marketing efforts helped producers increase or maintain the viability of their sheep operations, keeping a low impact small ruminant in a grazing system rather than seeing it replace by more destructive farming practices.

    Positive social impacts were realized because producers were making presentations to groups of consumers, most of whom they did not know, at the various tastings and demonstrations and to be mixed audience at outreach activities. Attendees at tasting events responded favorably to discussions about sustainable agriculture at these events. Additionally, consumers had an opportunity to meet at these events other consumers who shared with them common concerns about food safety and quality and sustainable living.

    The economic impacts are mixed among the producers involved. Michael and Cherie’ Seipel (Hickory Hollow Farm) built a database of 100 potential lamb customers through the marketing efforts of the grant project. Direct lamb sales for Hickory Hollow Farm went from 1 in 2000 to 9 in 2001 to 24.5 in 2002. These are still modest levels of direct sales, but they show a tangible impact of the grant. In addition, the promotional materials developed through the grant helped us to begin selling lamb to small espresso shop and lunch stand in Macon, MO. The proprietor is buying lamb from us and advertising gyro sandwiches made with local lamb on his lunch menu. He began by offering it as a Saturday lunch item only, but due to positive customer response he has begun offering it on Thursday and Friday as well. This is positive a small but steady additional demand for lamb and more importantly, gives us another product that we can begin marketing to other area restaurants.

    Other producers, such as David Coplen, reported that, while the lamb tastings were well-received by consumers, they did not seem to lead to any additional sales. As David put it, “Our experience is that people that love lamb will seek it out to buy it and that the others, even if they enjoy eating it for free at an event, won’t purchase any.”

    A potentially positive long term impact is that this project has given impetus to broader marketing efforts by the Midwest Katahdin Hair Sheep Association. MKHSA President for 2002, Mac Edwards, has used the nutritional and promotional information developed through this grant to approach Blooming Prairie natural foods cooperative distributor about carrying all natural Katahdin lamb. His initial efforts stalled due to an ownership change/buyout of Blooming Prairie, but we will continue to work on this and other cooperative marketing efforts in the future.

    OUTREACH
    Outreach efforts have been a very important and successful part of our grant. Outreach activities and efforts include:
    – Michael Seipel and marketing coordinator Kim Viers made a presentation to farmers as part of the Missouri Valued-Added Tour in Unionville, MO in August 2001. A presentation about progress of the grant and direct marketing efforts was made to 125 attendees and roast leg of lamb was provided for the buffet supper.
    – Cherie’ and Michael Seipel presented information about the grant, including nutritional and promotional materials, to the Katahdin Hair Sheep International Annual meeting in Columbia, MO in November 2001. Attendance was approximately 30 persons.
    – Michael Seipel presented a seminar on marketing efforts through the grant at the AgriExpo in Kirksville, MO in March 2002. Attendance was 10 persons.
    – Michael Seipel presented information about the marketing grant in a presentation entitled, “Direct Marketing, Starting Small and Local” at the Missouri Livestock Symposium, December 2002. Attendance was approximately 30 persons.
    – Cherie’ and Michael Seipel hosted a Farm Walk for Green Hills Farm Project (groups of grass based farmers) members as well as lamb customers, providing information on sustainable sheep production and lamb marketing in June 2003.
    – We have put general information about the grant on the web at www2.truman.edu/`mseipel/sare.html. this has produced inquiries from 5 producers who were interested in applying for SARE producer grants. I shared information with them about our experience with the grant and the marketing successes and difficulties we’ve experienced and encouraged each of them to develop their own proposals. The web site also contains a compressed file containing our marketing brochure. Our intention in that farmers could download the brochure as a template and then modify it with their own pictures and text and use it in their own direct marketing efforts.

    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.