Most food and ag entrepreneurs start really small, selling their products mainly, or even exclusively, at farmers markets, community festivals, and other local events. Or they might have just one or two retail accounts that command their sole focus in the beginning. While scaling up is usually the ultimate goal, it often takes a few years, sometimes several, of really working these early sales channels to dial in their business strategy and ensure they can execute well.
What young entrepreneurs may not realize is that in-person sales opportunities are excellent avenues for market research, product development, and consumer insights work. Having a close, involved partnership with a local retailer can provide similar intel.
Many startups spend big bucks on market research, R&D, consumer surveys, and other informative tactics, which can certainly be smart expenditures. But through in-person selling or continual interactions with one or two retailers, food and farm entrepreneurs can get this stuff for absolutely free.
We’ve touched on this concept in our two most recent podcasts. In Edible-Alpha® podcast #103, Noah Munro, MBA, founder of digital marketing consultancy Taste Profit, says that one of the biggest benefits of doing events and in-person sales is the ability to keep your customer close and ask them questions.
“You can test out new products, new pricing, new messaging even,” Noah says. “One day you could ask people ‘would you like to try a sample of fudge?’ The next day you could ask ‘have you ever tried fudge with honey?’ Then see how many people take you up on the offer each day.” Best of all, at the exact same time as you’re gleaning this free intel, you’re also making sales—double win!
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #104, Sweet Pea’s founder Rachel Smith discusses the valuable R&D that came with growing her homemade pie business slowly over a decade. She got to learn from customers which flavors they liked, and she saw the proof play out in the varieties and volumes she sold both directly and through a local meat market.
Even now that Sweet Pea’s has pivoted its business model to include a retail treat shop in Mayville, Wisconsin, Rachel still makes it a priority to interface directly with customers. She knows it’s important to break from baking pies and otherwise running her growing company to spend time on the sales floor. Out front, she can watch people peruse, see which items they’re responding to, and hear what other types of sweets they’d like to see in her shop.
For example, customers kept asking for lemon meringue, a flavor she’d never enjoyed making. So, instead of struggling to deliver on expectations, Rachel just tweaked her lemon bar recipe to create a dessert that’s reminiscent of lemon meringue but totally unique—and customers have gobbled it up.
When selling in-person, customers will share their opinions, likes, dislikes and desires with you whether you ask them to or not. And while it’s important to listen to their ideas, keep in mind that not every idea is a good one—or at least not a good one for your business.
In the podcast, Rachel stresses trusting your strengths and intuition and having boundaries for what you will and won’t do. “Just know your target audience,” she says. “And be OK with the fact that you can’t be everything to everyone.”
After slowly growing her homemade pie business in Minnesota, Rachel Smith took a huge leap and opened a treat shop in tiny Mayville, Wisconsin, while continuing to make pies for wholesale. In this podcast, learn how Rachel pivoted the business, secured financing, and got her new community behind Sweet Pea’s, as well as how she’s now refining her business model and setting the stage for further growth.
And now, our roundup of the best food and beverage finance news, events and resources from around the web…
Business Model Insights
- Innovations in upcycling open door to reach sustainability goals, boost profits (FoodNavigator-USA)
Innovation is exploding within upcycled foods and beverages, as manufacturers and ingredient companies eye bigger profits, higher sustainability benchmarks and compelling brand stories about waste reduction.
- How Small Businesses Can Win During Supply Chain Disruption: Pricing (Forbes)
- Is this resilient farm-to-fork system ‘proof of concept’ to revolutionize hospital food? (GreenBiz)
- FBN launches $25m regenerative ag pilot fund (AgFunder News)
- Online ag marketplace Farmers Business Network is teaming with the Environmental Defense Fund to offer discounted operating loans to farmers who implement sustainable farming practices.
- Plant-based investment interest is high among large CPG players, but valuations, deal sizes are dropping (FoodNavigator-USA)
- The Strategies I Used to Sell Two Businesses by the Time I was 45 (Entrepreneur)
- CPGs grapple with a murky 2022 outlook as inflation, supply chain weigh on operations (Food Dive)
- Uncertainty over the severity and permanence of these challenges is making it hard for CEOs to determine whether they should raise prices or implement other strategies.
- 5 Reasons Why Brands Should Think About Creating a Podcast Series in 2022 (Entrepreneur)
- Why brands should consider incorporating genderless language (New Hope Network)
- Omicron not slowing down return to normal (New Hope Network)
- New Hope research reveals consumers are still eagerly returning to stores, restaurants and other public venues—even as tidal wave of COVID-19 sweeps the country.
- Consumer Demand for Food Transparency Remains Strong as Omnichannel Rises (FMI, The Food Industry Association)
- How Tastes Will Be Changing in 2022: A Look into the Near Future (Food Tank)
Farming and AgTech
- Saturated riparian buffer strips stop farm runoff of most nitrate, study says (Organic Grower)
- These systems, which slow down and redirect water and nutrients running off farm fields, can be installed in more places than previously thought, enabling farmers to protect more local streams.
- Collaboration & innovation key to developing farmer-focused carbon markets (AgFunder News)
- Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg Launches a New Initiative to Save Small Organic Dairy Farmers in the Northeast (Organic Insider)
- Plenty raises $400m from Walmart, SoftBank, others in vertical farming’s largest funding to date (AgFunder News)
- The California-based vertical farming company sells only leafy greens for now, but Plenty expects to add strawberries and tomatoes next year and expand to the East Coast.
- Hain Celestial CEO zeroing in on M&A, with ‘a lot of firepower’ at his disposal (Food Dive)
- M&A deals that shaped the ingredients space in 2021 (Food Dive)
- Savanna Institute Perennial Farm Gathering: 2/4
- Organic Seed Growers Conference: 2/4–2/11
- Illinois Specialty Crop Conference & Trade Show: 2/5–2/7
- Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Conference: 2/12
- Edible-Alpha® MVP Series Workshop: Sales & Distribution Planning: 2/22
- Edible-Alpha® MVP Series Workshop: Marketing & Branding Planning: 3/17
- PLMA Global: Online Private Label Trade Show: 3/28–3/31
- Nutrition Capital Network Spring Investor Meeting: 4/19–4/20
- Illinois Specialty Crop Conference & Trade Show: 2/5–2/7 in Springfield, IL
- Winter Fancy Food Show: 2/6–2/8 in Las Vegas, NV
- World Ag Expo: 2/8–2/10 in Tulare, CA
- Organic Grain Conference & Trade Show: 2/9–2/10 in Champagne, IL
- Food Processing Expo 2022: 2/15–2/16 in Sacramento, CA
- Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Conference: 2/17–2/19 in Dayton, OH
- American Frozen Food Institute AFFI-CON: 2/19–2/22 in Dallas, TX
- Refrigerated Foods Association 41st Annual Conference and Exhibition: 2/20–2/23 in Amelia Island, FL
- UNFI Natural and Conventional Spring and Summer Show: 2/21–2/23 in Orlando, FL
- MOSES Organic Farming Conference: 2/24–2/26 in La Crosse, WI
- International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York: 3/6–3/8 in New York, NY
- Natural Products Expo West: 3/8–3/12 in Anaheim, CA
- Seafood Expo North America/Seafood Processing North America: 3/13–3/15 in Boston, MA
- Soil Health Academy School: Regenerative Farming & Ranching: 3/15–3/17 in Chico, CA
- PACK EXPO East: 3/21–3/23 in Philadelphia, PA
- SIAL America: Inspire Food Business: 3/22–3/24 in Las Vegas, NV
- Midwest Poultry Federation Convention: 3/22–3/24 in Minneapolis, MN
- Global Pet Expo: 3/23–3/25 in Orlando, FL