Video Clip: Restaurant Sales from Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies


Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 1999. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase at: (verified 31 Dec 2008).

This is a Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies video clip.


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Dave and Chris Colson, New Leaf Farm. Durham, ME.

Audio Text

We’re Dave and Chris Colson, we’re from Durham, Maine and we’ve been farming here in Durham since 1982. I started the farm with my parents in 1982 and we started marketing in 1983 and we’ve been marketing chiefly to restaurants and natural food stores ever since then. We are cultivating twelve acres. Three and a half acres of vegetables, the rest are in green manure rotations for soil fertility. All of our produce goes off-farm, we deliver to the Portland area twice a week and that makes it easier for us to schedule the rest of the week for harvesting two days a week and cultivating, maintaining the fields, the crops. Currently we’ve got two natural food stores and about five restaurants that we deliver. In addition we’ve added a couple of food buying clubs or food coops to take the place of one very large cooperative natural food store which closed last year.

We started marketing, going to farmers markets back in the early days and my dad did a lot of the actual farmers market selling. He didn’t like sitting at farmers market - he’s an active kind of guy and we found by the end of the market, prices were dropping and we didn’t feel like we were getting the price we needed to get for our vegetables. So my dad knocked on a couple back doors of health food stores and knocked on the door of a couple restaurants that we knew chefs of and they were all eager to take the produce and so we’ve been marketing pretty much to restaurants since then. We’ve felt that for the quality and the type of vegetables that we were growing, which in some ways are probably a little bit unusual for people especially when you get originally into the mesclun salad mixes. What we were looking for was an educated consumer and we found that the chefs were about as educated a food consumer as we could find. We’ve noticed that chefs talk to each other, our names will be passed around and one of the best ways we’ve found to pick up restaurant accounts is with the culinary herbs, having fresh culinary herbs. We sometimes will deliver just culinary herbs to a restaurant for a period of time and then they will suddenly discover that, oh we’re growing lettuce and other things as well, so that’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

There were a few things we tried that didn’t really work out for us. We started marketing to some larger outlets, colleges, stores and whatnot, bigger restaurants. We found that when we had to work through a purchasing agent they weren’t working directly with the food, they didn’t see the quality they were getting and only were basically concerned only with the bottom line. When you work with the owner chef, you have someone that’s working with the food, that knows what they’re getting for their dollar and is willing to pay for it.

Some of the things that we’ve found to be important when dealing with the chefs particularly and also with the stores is to make sure you let them know when you have something available and follow through with the phone calls, don’t wait for them to call you for an order, but take the initiative and have a regular schedule so that they know when you’re going to call and that you are going to call. We have regular delivery days so they know exactly when the produce is coming in and when we agree to deliver something to them, we deliver just that item and in the amount that they asked for. If there is a problem, we can’t get something, we’ve overestimated, then we call them back as soon as possible and let them know what’s happening. It’s that communication that we’ve found to be the biggest point in our marketing. And over a period of time when you work with a dozen or so of chefs or buyers you develop a personal relationship with them, and that personal relationship is really what makes the marketing click.

A few years ago, we decided to get a computer for the kids’ homework, but realized that we could use an accounting program for the farm. This accounting program not only generates the invoices, but it also keeps track of how many pounds of broccoli, heads of lettuce etc, we’ve sold over the season. At the end of the year we can then look at which crops we benefited from and which crops we need to drop. The other information we can get from this program is which customers bought over our minimum amount, dollars wise, and then we can plan the next season’s customer list based on that program information. I’m not a businessperson, I’m not an expert in marketing and I wouldn’t even have predicted that I would be in this position in a business. I tend to think of myself more as a creative artsy person. I guess I’m really a people person too, because its those contacts that I’ve made over the years that I really value, and I feel that we are loyal to our customers and they are loyal to us.

This video project was funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).

Published June 15, 2011

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