Is Home Delivery A Good CSA Model?

Delivering food may be a great way to reach new customers, but home-delivery is not without its challenges.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: Jesse Frost

Not every customer who wants to support a CSA can make a weekly trip to the farmers market, leaving a large population of local-food lovers under-served. The savvy farmer, eager to increase their customer base and reach a wider audience, may begin to consider offering an option for home delivery or work delivery. You can charge extra for the service, and the customer doesn’t have to go out of his or her way to get fresh vegetables. Certainly, it’s an attractive idea.

But there are many things that should be considered before selling your CSA this way. Namely, is the work worth the time? The answer: It depends.

Pros Of Home Delivery

Not only do customers appreciate convenience, there are many people who work during market hours, so home or work delivery gives the farmer the opportunity to reach those who want to support you but can’t always make it to a farmers market. Offering a delivery option can also be a way to value-add, but instead of charging for a product, you’re charging for a service. Moreover, you get to choose your hours, so in theory you could take Saturday’s off entirely if you so desired.

Cons Of Home Delivery

Farmers markets offer a chance to get to know your customers well, which may help increase customer retention rates. Delivery complicates that as you may never see the person you are feeding, thus never get to cultivate that relationship. Another con is that instead of the vibrant atmosphere of a farmers’ market, whoever does the delivery will have to spend a few hours a week driving. Whatever delivery fee you decide to charge must cover that time and gas, which may cause your prices to be higher, thus more prohibitive to busy, lower-income customers.

Design Considerations

The first thing that must be determined is how far you are willing to drive. Potential customers should submit their address for you to determine if it will be in a reasonable range. If not, you could suggest that the customer submit their work address if that’s a possibility. Or be creative here. Offering customers to share a drop off location with a friend for a small discount could be a great way to encourage more people who live out of the range to sign up and spread the word about your business.

Another thing to consider is that you’re not going to want to leave vegetables on anyone’s porch in the middle of the summer—they will disintegrate and your customer will get poor-quality food, so it is necessary to figure out some sort of storage option (i.e. ask the customer should provide a cooler or cool place for you to set the vegetables when they’re not there).

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Lastly, to make delivery effective, your time must be utilized well. Stopping and chatting with customers, although important, must be kept at a minimum—and somehow you have to relay this to them, which isn’t always easy. This is why I would recommend sending out a “contract” of sorts, outlining everything you expect from the customer—including the aforementioned cooler—and everything they should expect from you. In the contract should be a note apologizing if you have to cut conversations short. Always be polite and diplomatic, but you have to be firm. Perhaps, offer a chance for customers to come to the farm during the season for events. That way, you still get to connect with them, which will help in retention rates, and perhaps reduce the desire to for both consumer and farmer to chat during deliveries.

Again, the goal is to increase your profits, so if you do try deliveries, always be looking for ways to make it more efficient for you and more satisfying for the customer. A balance of those two things will make delivery service that much more successful.

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