Photo by Eliza Brown/Flickr
The winds may be blowing, but farm sales could still be glowing as we head into the holiday season. With some creative strategies and planning, your farm-related sales can generate a healthy holiday boost at a time traditionally associated with growing-season dormancy.
Part of the motivation behind thinking about holiday sales is we farmers want and deserve a piece of that big retail Christmas-shopping pie. According to the National Retail Federation, the holidays can represent as much as 20 to 40 percent of some retailers’ total annual sales. In 2012, holiday sales added up to a healthy 19.3 percent of all retail-industry sales for the year.
While you might understandably consider your farm in a different sales league than the big-box store at the strip mall, it does help to think a little like a brick-and-mortar shop when planning for the holidays. Start dreaming up creative ways to market what you still have in inventory—from meats to those last winter squash—so that what you have to sell fits your customers’ holiday shopping needs. Here are eight ideas to get you started.
1. Create a holiday-specific CSA share.
Gather your remaining fall produce, add in some meat, eggs or anything else you might sell throughout the year, and package it together as a special “Holiday CSA Share.” What you’re offering is more than just your farm bounty; you’re selling convenience. Instead of customers shopping around for their holiday meal, they can buy everything in one place. This holiday share could be offered at special pricing to your existing community-supported-agriculture customers or used as a calling card to introduce new families to the CSA concept, without requiring them to commit to a whole season.
2. Craft using farm materials.
Creating crafts and personal-care items, like soap or lip balm, using farm-grown or foraged ingredients can be a win-win for the holiday shopping season. These items are typically not nearly as regulated (if at all) by the state, and therefore, can be much easier and more cost-effective to get out to market. Additionally, these are the types of products that more readily fall into the traditional “gift” category that folks are looking for during the holidays.
Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, Wis., runs a vegetable CSA with her family during the growing season but brings in a healthy off-season income with her goat’s milk soap business.
“While we sell soap throughout the year, Christmas sales make up a solid 80 to 85 percent of our annual sales; there is no question that holiday sales are the best time to sell specialty soaps,” Ends says. “We do special holiday-shaped molds and fragrances and also package several soaps together in gift boxes.”
Ends also finds that holiday customers buying gifts will also stock up on soap for themselves for the year, so she makes extra-large, practical-sized bath bars for this clientele.
3. Sell under cottage food laws.
More than 30 states have various forms of “cottage food laws” on the books, which enables certain food products to be made in a home kitchen for specific public-sale venues. Processing and selling under cottage food laws can be beneficial for farmers looking to do value-added sales for the holidays, as you can get up and running with generally little to no cost or complicated regulations.
“In Wisconsin, our current legislation enables me to sell high-acid canned foods, so I make pickles, salsa and jams with our summer produce all season long and then have a nice inventory to sell for the holidays,” explains Erin Schneider, who runs Hilltop Community Farm in LaValle, Wis., a diversified vegetable and fruit operation, with her husband, Rob McClure.
Each state’s legislation is different and has its own set of parameters and requirements, so connect directly with an authoritative entity for accurate information. Your county extension office would be a good first call.
4. Sell at winter markets and gift fairs.
Bring your products to events and venues where people will already be in the holiday-shopping mindset. Winter farmers’ markets and gift fairs, where various vendors gather to make shopping easy and fun, can be a good fit, especially if those venues draw customers supportive of and interested in local food and sustainable agriculture.
Both Ends and Schneider vend at the Fair Trade Holiday Festival, a one-day annual holiday fair in Madison, Wis., with a focus on fair-trade products and ethical sourcing, which fits perfectly with the homegrown and homemade products they offer.
5. Share farm-inspired recipes.
Give folks reasons to use your products by providing recipe cards and culinary ideas. Writing up a full holiday menu with your favorite recipes that use farm ingredients you’re selling makes it easy for potential customers to visualize your farm-grown and -raised products on their tables.
This can be a great opportunity to educate shoppers about alternatives to the traditional holiday menus. For example, share how winter squash can be used in pies as an alternative to pumpkin or how different types of meats, such as goose and rabbit, could be a welcomed change from turkey or ham.
6. Use common retail-sales lingo.
If you’re vending at a winter farmers’ market or other holiday event, use some of the suggestive Christmas-shopping language big retailers use, such as “gifts for him,” “gifts for her” or a price point like “gifts under $20.” This puts a concrete, specific idea into shoppers’ minds, especially important as they might not be thinking of strawberry jam as a holiday gift for Aunt June, but now that you’re suggesting it, they realize it’s the perfect fit!
7. Make it pretty—and easy.
To increase gift purchases, make your product as attractive as possible and easy to give as a gift. Wicker baskets can usually be picked up at thrift stores very inexpensively. Place a square of festive fabric inside to line the basket and place your produce, jams, pickles or whatever you’re selling inside, and price it as one complete gift basket.
8. Thank your customers.
The holiday season is the perfect time to express appreciation to your loyal customers throughout the growing seasons. From your CSA subscribers to regular farmers’ market customers, anything from a hand-written note to a holiday e-newsletter with recipes brings closure to your growing season on a note of thanks. Offer a peek at next year’s growing season, and give your faithful customers a discount for renewing their CSA membership early or a coupon for a free seedling at the first farmers’ market of the season.
The holidays gift us farmers with something we don’t typically have during the growing season: Time to get creative and enjoy the festive, celebratory mindset of the season. Have fun and try out something new with holiday marketing ideas, and your November and December will be sweet with extra sales.
About the Author: Lisa Kivirist writes from Inn Serendipity farm and bed-and-breakfast in Wisconsin, which is completely powered by renewable energy and specializes in local, seasonal, organic cuisine. She is co-author of the award winning book ECOpreneuring (New Society Publishers, 2008), Rural Renaissance (New Society Publishers, 2009) and Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011), as well as Hobby Farms’ blog “Farmstead Chef.”