8 Ways to Ace Farm-to-Consumer Sales

The COVID-19 pandemic both accelerated demand for locally grown food and pushed people to e-commerce in droves. These dual forces have created a huge opportunity for farmers and ranchers to sell directly to consumers, chefs, schools and other customers online.

Trouble is, most farmers aren’t natural-born marketers or experienced at direct sales. For many, the whole idea is scary. But with 93% of Americans buying products online last year and more people wanting relationships with local producers, farmers should strongly consider tapping into this booming market.

But they don’t have to go it alone. FFI offers a wealth of resources to guide farmers in this area. So does Barn2Door, by providing software and services to help them manage and grow direct sales. Tera interviewed company COO James Maiocco for the latest podcast, and he shared a trove of data-supported tips and best practices. Here are eight:

1. Go omnichannel. Buyers don’t just go to farmers’ websites—they engage with them through email, social media, Nextdoor and other avenues. “Buyers are on every channel, and your farm can’t afford to do business on just one,” says James, adding that the most successful farmers sell via two to three channels.

2. Rely heavily on email (it’s free!). “Email is an incredibly effective marketing vehicle for farmers,” James says. “It doesn’t cost anything to send, and with a solution like Mailchimp, you can get started for free.” When farmers email customers once a week and include their product catalog, he says sales increase 30%.

3. Make purchasing easy. To make an omnichannel strategy work, farmers need to include a call to action on every webpage, e-newsletter, email, etc. A simple, clickable “shop” or “buy now” button does the trick. “Buyers don’t want to phone, text or email, which take about seven to eight touches to finish a transaction,” James says. “To grow and be successful at any scale, you need to make it super easy to purchase, because people shop at all hours of the day.”

4. Eliminate barriers. Avoid roadblocks such as requiring customers to register or enter a password before purchasing. Otherwise, farmers will “lose about 60% of all buyers who come to the website because they’re required to complete two, three, five or seven steps before they’re even allowed to put an item in the cart,” James says. “They should be able to show up and buy.”

5. Encourage subscriptions. One-time purchases create a lot of work for farmers, because they must constantly go after the sale and remind people to shop. To make it easier, invite customers to subscribe to recurring boxes or orders, which can be tailored to different audiences. “This allows you to streamline operations, harvest dates and pick-pack lists, saving you time and money,” James explains. “We have testimonials about how farmers’ lives have changed simply from moving from scattered one-time purchases to recurring purchases.”

6. Think small. James says many farmers make subscription boxes too big, mistakenly assuming every customer has a family or a chest freezer. Then when they can’t consume the food fast enough, it goes bad and they stop buying. James says farmers who package for singles, couples and people with regular freezers sell out more often and earn about twice as much as those who offer only large subscription boxes or quarter, half or whole animals.

7. Nix mix-and-match. Farmers often want to allow subscribers to customize their boxes, but the data say don’t do it. “If you give people too many choices, conversion goes down,” James says. “But if you say ‘here’s our recommended salad mix’ or ‘here are the types of products you’ll get every week,’ conversion is about ninefold higher just because it’s point-and-click.” Plus, box assembly becomes faster, easier and cheaper.

8. Charge for delivery. Some farmers question whether customers will pay for delivery, but data show that they absolutely will pay $5, $10 or even $15, depending on order size. Barn2Door just published a free e-book all about optimizing delivery routes and increasing profits.

Bonus tip: Make use of free data! Big food companies don’t make any decisions without data, and farmers looking to direct-sell shouldn’t either. Barn2Door has loads of it to share with farmers, based on what the most successful ones do, so be sure to check it out.

Direct-selling represents an increasingly lucrative opportunity for farmers, but they often need assistance setting up, managing and growing their business. That’s where Barn2Door comes in. This fast-growing company is uniquely focused helping farmers win at direct sales. Check out Tera’s discussion with chief operations officer James Maiocco to get the full scoop plus data-driven insights on successful strategies.

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