You have passion for what you do! You love your product — not just a little but a whole lot! You are sure small-scale, diversified farming will save the local economy, the state, and heal the planet. And finally the rest of the world, including your customer, has seen the light! Right? Probably not.
Chances are good your customer shares some of your core values but probably not all of them. Certainly not to the same degree. That’s OK! Your customer is allowed to love your product just because it is a superior product. Or because it will impress their dinner guests with it’s local origins. Or because it will give them bragging rights at the company water cooler on Monday morning.
Still, it would be a wonderful thing if our customers agreed with all our philosophies right? Maybe not. Maybe we have to learn to embrace customers who really have no clue what we think or why we do what we do. Maybe we need to appeal to them in new ways.
If we are going to grow our local and regional food purchasing we are going to have to reach further under the curve to entice that ‘average consumer’ to ‘try and buy’. Most research done on consumer purchasing suggests that somewhere around 5% of consumers actually think, and buy, locally on a consistent basis. 5% is not enough to support the farm base we hope to cultivate.
If that number seems ridiculously low to you it may be that you are living in a bubble. Many of us are guilty of seeking out those who think and feel similarly to how we think and feel. Local is good, large is suspect, green is great. If you sell at the farmers’ market and the only consumers you talk with are those who shop at the market you are engaging with one thin slice of the consumer population. You may be missing out on the needs and behaviors of all those shoppers jamming the parking lots of the local supermarkets–and believe me the supermarkets are not hurting for customers.
Likewise, if you operate a Community Supported Farm and the only people you interact with are your members you might get the impression that everyone appreciates kale and loves heirloom eggplant. You would be wrong. After all, this is the same society that just brought Twinkies back from the brink of extinction.
What qualities lure us away from local? Here are a few thoughts from some friends that I ran into at the local supermarket. I asked what it would take for them to buy more local products:
- Convenience — sometimes I just don’t have the time to make 3 stops on my way home. Sometimes it is nice to stop at one place where I know I can get everything I need under one roof, pull out my debit card and be on my way.
- Price. I won’t lie to you. Although I spend much more on food than the average US consumer I do have my limits. There are times of the year that my disposable income seems to get ‘disposed of’ faster than others.
- Consistency. This is tough one. Sometimes I just want corn-fed beef that is fork tender and perfectly marbled. Sometimes I want a fresh chicken breast that is already skinned, boned and recipe-ready. Sometimes I want salad greens that are triple washed, trimmed and ready to eat.
- Quality. Another tough one. Not all local is better. If the quality is not consistently excellent it is hard for me to stay loyal and even harder to pay a premium for so-so product. You need to be the quality assurance officer of your product. If it doesn’t measure up get it off the shelf.
The truth is, as a small producer, you probably do not have a lot of room to negotiate on price. But, if you can find your way to expand on the quality, consistency and convenience factors you may well open up some new customer opportunities — and that could be a really good thing for your business.