If you grow it, you must sell it!

How you market your fruit must be part of your plan.

Marketing is probably the single the most important factor in almost every farm operation, and probably the one thing that is most terrifying to many operators.  Marketing takes work, guts, determination, inventiveness, street smarts, and other character traits that challenge many of us.  However, we ALL know that if you GROW IT, YOU MUST MARKET IT!  So, regardless of whether or not you think you are a marketer, if you want to grow fruit on a commercial scale, then you must have a market for it.

What is my market?  This is probably the most important question you need to answer.  We all know that if you don't have a market for your production, then you have to EAT it!  Some of the market niches that you need to investigate are:

  • Roadside or Farm Markets: These are probably one of the easier markets to enter into, since to start all you really need to do is put up your produce on a table in front of the farm. Of course, this is a very simplistic view, since most of the farm or roadside markets are much more complicated that that. However, I suspect that most of them started from very modest beginnings and grew with success. Check out markets in your region and don't be afraid to learn from them.
  • Farmer's Markets direct to the consumer: Farmer's Markets are growing by leaps and bounds in many regions of the country. Many cities think that they should offer venues to their citizens to buy locally grown produce. They could be your customer!. With the growth of the "locally grown" concept, these are often a very viable marketing solution, especially in regions and areas that do not have concentrated fruit areas or are not known for their fruit production areas.
  • U-Pick Orchards: These can be profitable and often tie into the agriculture tourism aspect. They seem to have a "rise and fall" cycle as consumers feelings change about whether or not they want to actually "work and pick their own" or whether they just want to buy it off a shelf. U-Picks often go hand-in-hand with many Roadside Markets.
  • Agri-Tourism and Agri-Entertainment: One of the most interesting new aspects to many farm operations, no matter what kinds of crops they grow is the tie-in that many operators are making to the general population that really has no idea of what farming is all about. Whereas 50 years ago, most people still had some tie within a generation or so to farms and farm families, this connection is getting more raveled than ever. A huge majority of the populace may not really have an idea of where their food comes from, except to believe it came from the grocery store. Many smart farmers are selling lots of produce by way of "entertaining" and "educating" their customers at the same time. We have many fruit tree customers who have operations that employ this technique. For many new fruit growers, it should be investigated thoroughly, especially if they are in an area where there are not very many "competitors" or where fruit growing may be a little more challenging because of climatic conditions. Often the main focus is not on fruit production, but on bakeries, farm markets, Halloween, school tours, hay rides, haunted houses, and other associated products and services that are revenue generators that often surpass in total revenue the sales of fruit grown on the farm.
  • PCH-PF27a-3.JPG (726434 bytes) Wholesale Produce Markets or Auctions: If you have an excess of production, wholesale and auction markets can be a good place to help move it, if there is one close by. These markets would include directly servicing local super-markets, produce or roadside markets, or even other competitors. Usually, you may need to have some way to store, grade, and package excess produce. Wholesale may be less "marketing" work, but usually it is less profitable too. If you are in a region or area that historically does not have a lot of fruit production, there is usually a reason for it. In these regions, wholesale should probably be avoided, since the infra-structure is usually not there to help you and production from other wholesale production regions usually will cut your margins significantly. Tie that in with lower production that you may expect in a traditionally "non-fruit-growing" region and you spell big challenges in wholesale markets.
  • Organic Production and Markets: "Organic" has become an increasingly significant factor in consumers minds. There is a significant segment of the consumer populace that will pay more for organically grown produce. You may already be servicing them in the vegetable or other area. Determine whether or not you want to try it with fruit too, which will be more challenging that most other crops. Talk with your Extension service about it and use their resources. Try to determine whether or not you can expect to be successful with organic fruit production in your climate and area. More arid areas are more readily able to beat the bugs and diseases in fruit, than a lot of more humid areas. Figure out if the price difference for growing organic will beat the price for conventional in the long-term.
  • Who is my competition? Unfortunately many farmers think that their competition lives down the road. This is not always the case. If there are only a few fruit producers in your area or region, you may experience a synergistic affect by cooperating with them. Wineries are a prime example of this. Put one on an Interstate interchange and you have just a winery, but put two or three close by and you have a DESTINATION for tourists!
  • Other markets: I am continually surprised about how much I don't know and how often I learn something new in my travels. When I learn of a new marketing trick, I'll try and add it.

My recommendation is don't plant an orchard until you know your marketing plan!