Direct Marketing Assessment for the Potential of Ethnic Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2002: $9,775.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Jason Murray
Virginia Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Fruits: melons, pears
  • Vegetables: beans, cabbages, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), peppers, radishes (culinary)
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, business planning, farmers' markets/farm stands, market study, marketing management, survey
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems


    This project is in response to two trends in the Washington, DC area. First, ethnic demographics represent an increasing population surrounding Washington, DC. Second, American consumers in this region are expressing increasing interest in cultural diversification of the foods they eat. This project, publicly promoted as the “World Produce Project”, attempted to connect various consumer groups with produce that matches their cultural heritage; as well as facilitate transition of existing consumers to diversified products. Hispanic, Asian, and African products were of primary interest.

    This educational research project quantified direct marketing sales and production potential from three farmers to identify new crops that may be highly profitable for local farmers in direct marketing. Markets for promotional activity were selected based on geography and demographics – including Columbia Pike and Arlington. In brief conclusion, there was greater success educating existing market customers to utilize “new” and “unique” products than in actually matching these products with their cultural demographic groups. Community groups were involved with cooking demonstrations and direct promotion – but did not readily initiate a consumer habit of buying at the markets. Our “high-end” producers were only interested in the high return from direct marketing, while the targeted ethnic groups tended to utilize lower cost ethnic grocery stores. These ethnic grocery stores did not offer prices to our producers adequate to lead to sales through the grocery stores.

    Many ethnic crops can be profitable; however, quantity of production may be limited by direct marketing potential. Data presented illustrates for this project the limited capability of many of these crops in terms of sales volume. The project included a diversity of promotional strategies under the direction of promotional consultant Kelly Luck. Promotional mechanisms, identified through community focus groups, were found to be most successful by direct entry into the community – including community group meetings, cooking demonstrations, and local advertising. Surveys were conducted at the markets as well to assess consumer characteristics. The educational premise of the project included on-farm tours of the crops, a bus tour of specialty crops, and presentations at farming conferences.


    Population growth in the Washington, D.C. area is experiencing increases in ethnic demographics. Increases are evident in Hispanic, African, and Asian populations. This project was developed based on connecting these consumer groups with vegetable products that match their cultural interests. The overall intention was to create awareness of availability of these products in order to assess the ability to connect the products and consumers via surveys. The primary means for sales potential was evaluation of gross returns at Farmers Markets.

    While the origination of the project was to connect ethnic consumers to respective produce, this project also evaluated the ability to transition existing market customers to “new” or “unique” products. This is in response to interest of the general population for a broadening of food choices, in effect being an increase in interest in foods of other cultures.

    To satisfy these two different situations, two distinct farmers markets were selected for evaluation. The Columbia Pike Farmers Market was identified by advisory groups as being nestled within a community with ethnic diversity. The Arlington Farmers Market was selected as an affluent market to assess potential of transitioning existing customers to new products.

    Crop production, yields, and gross returns data were collected. This can offer insight to the relative profitability on a ‘per area’ basis of the crops selected for evaluation. Furthermore, production data combined with sales potential can be utilized in the future for farmer adoption in determination of appropriate quantities of products to produce.

    A wide array of promotional mechanisms was implemented to draw ethnic community into the markets. These techniques are summarized in the methods section of this report, and the comprehensive report on promotional strategies implemented is available in hard copy in the final report as conducted by Kelly Luck. Surveys at the farmers markets were conducted to determine efficacy of the promotional mechanisms to connect the consumers with respective products.

    Finally, educational outreach was conducted in venues such as conference presentations, field days, specialty crops bus tour, and written reports. Handouts accompanied these presentations and may be utilized in the future for Extension Bulletins.

    Project objectives:

    Objective One: Identify produce of interest to ethnic demographic community in which this project will operate.

    Objective two: Data collection for selected ethnic vegetable crops. Identify planting specifications, production and harvesting timelines, yields, sales quantities, price per unit sold. Use this data to establish potential returns per acre (or per square foot) in evaluation of profitability, as well as to identify ideal production quantities based upon sales potential.

    Objective three: Implementation of market and product promotional mechanisms; followed by surveys to assess the characteristics of the consumers at the markets. This offers insight to the efficacy of promotional mechanisms to either bring new ethnic consumers into the market, and/or efficacy of transitioning existing market consumers to “new” or “unique” 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.