Marketing Sustainable and/or Organic Products in Small Metro Areas
Our goal is to increase sales of locally grown organic foods in Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota. Like many other small metro areas in the Midwest, Fargo-Moorhead had no established, mainstream market for organic foods, despite the growth of organic foods nationally. The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS) is coordinating rural farmers seeking to market their products in Fargo-Moorhead. Producers seek to reach the growing segment of mainstream consumers who desire high-quality, earth-friendly foods, but don’t have the time to search all over town for them. We knew that selling to a wider range of consumers in Fargo-Moorhead depends on developing markets where organics are available on a reliable basis.
Successfully mainstreaming organics means working closely with retailers as well as consumers. We consulted with Organic Alliance in St. Paul to develop a marketing, consumer education and media plan. We then pitched our marketing strategy with the heads of the three local grocery store chains and agreed to work with two of them. Both wanted to only market certified products.
Our media outreach resulted in numerous newspaper and TV stories about our project. A local consumer survey indicated strong interest in organic foods and especially in locally grown foods. To simplify grocery stores’ ordering, we coordinated with local growers and made one sales call a week to the grocery stores, offering them a wider selection of produce and reducing the number of calls. To promote the produce in the stores, we supplied them with attractive point-of-sale materials from Organic Alliance.
We also developed a new farmers market devoted to local organic foods. We advertised the availability of the organic foods, both at the stores and at the farmers market, on public radio and in the newspaper.
Our efforts have increased sales of organic products at grocery stores and at our new organic farmers market. Sales to grocery stores started well. Last winter, one grower’s packaged, certified organic potatoes sold much better than retailers expected, encouraging them to try more products. However, sales of other products have been hit and miss. Muskmelons and watermelons sold well despite competition from low-priced conventional melons. But our local organic sweet corn harvest coincided with retailers’ promotion of machine-harvested corn priced at 3 cents per ear.
Packaging and labeling of products (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc) was difficult. The industry standard PLU (price lookup) number stickers we had hoped to purchase were only available in large lots (500,000 or more); small growers and grocers need smaller quantities of them. In addition to labeling, lack of certified growers limited our retail sales. The grocery stores wanted more certified produce than we could supply. As a result of the project, five growers have expressed their intention to become certified, and most of our grocer-partners, now convinced that sufficient demand for organics exists, have started stocking organic produce from national wholesalers.
Our non-certified growers expressed interest in starting a farmers market. Located on a busy street in a residential neighborhood, the market has proven popular. Consumers say they like the market’s convenient location and after-work hours, as well as its focus on organic foods.
For more information:
North Dakota State University
301 Morrill Hall
Fargo, ND 58105