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Agritourism How-To Articles by Jane Eckert
2009 Food Trends All Favor the Farmer!
By Jane Eckert
Traditionally, the first few months bring us a flurry of forecasts for the coming year, and I’ve been noticing those articles that discuss what the public will be eating in 2009. I’ve read over a dozen articles, from the New York Times to the Food Channel network. It looks like there may be some changes this year regarding what people will eat, and where they will eat—and these trends bode well for direct farm marketers.
Let’s look at the trends, and then we’ll discuss how to incorporate this information into your farm markets and marketing plans.
It’s not too surprising to hear that people are expected to go back to their kitchens to prepare more meals and spend less money dining out. The trends say that comfort foods are back “in”—meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, fresh vegetables, baked treats and fruit salad are reappearing on the family tables. For those of you that offer farm cooking or ready-prepared foods, eating at home does include the purchase of more prepared foods from supermarkets and markets as opposed to fast food purchases.
Dining out, as an “entertainment” form, will also likely decrease. While the recession will be impacting the restaurant business, people are going to be choosing to entertain their friends at home instead of going out for a fancy meal. This is now officially called “culinary cocooning,” enjoying good food, friends and more simple pleasures, while relaxing at home in your own “cocoon.”
“Healthy Lifestyle” Replaces the Word “Diet”
Another interesting trend is that people are talking less about “diet,” and instead, they are now talking about living healthier lifestyles and replacing processed foods with fresh products—fruits and vegetables. The Food Channel Network says “Eating Locally and Seasonally” is a top trend for 2009. Plenty of media now reinforces this concept, stressing the value of shopping the outside “fresh” walls of the supermarkets, as opposed to the center aisles of processed foods.
Certainly the “slow” food movement and the “buy local” information is getting through to the consumer. Their food buying patterns are changing, and farmer’s today enjoy more and better educated consumers desiring locally grown food.
More Than a Trend, It’s a Change in Lifestyle
I found still more research that confirms that eating at home is more than a 2009 trend; it is a change in lifestyle. Bon Appetit, a cooking magazine, reports that their newsstand sales were up by 39% in May 2008. Amazon.com reports a double digit growth in book sales in the food, cooking and wine categories during 2008. And—this one is amazing—in October 2008, sales of Ball canning and storage products were up 92 percent over the same month last year. That report is echoed by a national research firm that says that sales of home freezers were up 7% in the first six months of 2008.
One final bit of research that fits into the farmer’s overall marketing strategy—while consumers are eating home more, they are also becoming more watchful in the spending of their food dollars. That is why coupons, special sale items, and discounts for quantity purchases are all going to be important marketing strategies to capture the dollars of the consumer wanting to buy local.
Using the Trends to Grow Your Business
The wagon is already rolling, so here’s what you need to think about to get aboard.
1. Continue to grow the best fruits and vegetables you can, handle them with care, and treat your customers with respect. (This should be nothing new!)
2. Offer cooking classes—just because people are eating at home more does not mean they really know how to cook, bake or prepare the comforts foods we all grew up with eating at grandma’s house. They want to learn—bulk produce buying is up, and freezer and canning jar sales are up—so let’s teach these consumers how this is done! Don’t forget to take advantage of selling the containers and seasonings.
(By the way, cooking classes don’t need to be just for adults. I watched a child’s cooking class at a farm a few years ago where the children went out to gather the eggs at the hen house, pick the peaches and then return to the bakery to make their own small peach pie.)
3. Sell Cookbooks —cookbookshave long been a popular category with farm markets, but let’s make sure that they are prominently displayed. Feature one of the fruit desserts at your bakery so the customer can actually sample a product from the cookbook.
Set up a food demonstration area in the store with a person actually making the product and answering customer questions about safe food handling, food preparation, recipes, etc.
4. Sell Cooking & Kitchen Supplies—create a homey display, and feature the products people need for their “new found” kitchen, including small utensils, towels, potholders, aprons, salad spinner, etc. As people return to their kitchen to actually enjoy cooking, they may be quite willing to purchase these types of products to improve their kitchen environment.
5. Maximize your marketing—be sure you are using the right words on your website and advertising pieces—the words that emphasize these customer trends. Some keywords and phrases you’ll want to use include: buy local, farm fresh, homegrown, picked today, quantity discounts, local farm, etc.
6. Be Creative and Have Fun-let people know they are buying from a farmer and let them meet you. A clever promotion by a California CSA farm invited their members to an on farm annual event to come “shake the hand that feeds you.”
I visited a farm this past fall in Canada that proudly advertises the fact that no sweet corn on this wagon is over two hours from being picked. WOW! That was impressive and yes, they have someone going out to the cornfield throughout the day to ensure that promise is kept. Cars were literally streaming into this farm stand during my entire visit.
One final trend I wanted to mention before you go. Based on a survey I took at the end of 2008, with farms throughout North America participating, nearly every direct market farm reported an increase in business income. Now that’s a trend we also want to continue, and we can, if we watch the growing trends around us.
Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.