SEPT 18, 2013: You are a smallholder with produce to sell. How do you stand out from the crowd and capture a niche market? James Strawbridge offers advice
You are a smallholder with produce to sell. How do you stand out from the crowd and capture a niche market? James Strawbridge offers more advice I strongly believe that a truly healthy and happy smallholding is one where the mortgage gets some support from the lifestyle, rather than you having to pay through the teeth just to be able to eat free range eggs in the morning and spend a fortune for the luxury of cleaning out your own livestock. Animals, fruit and vegetables have historically been a massive part of the self-sufficient way of life in this country, but also traditionally a means to barter and trade. In my mind, the same applies today. Travelling to market with a gaggle of geese or a wooden cart bundled with fleece may be a thing of the past, but farmers’ markets and food festivals still have all of the colourful flair of an old-fashioned style trading post, and as much relevance – although minus the dancing bears and hopefully with less drunken brawls. My small company is growing in the right direction with its roots still firmly on the smallholding, and I want to highlight some of the key areas where a bit of extra attention can yield results. This includes spreading the word about your product, keeping squeaky clean with the council, including your community and extending your range by taking to the open roads. TASTER SESSIONS If you are considering selling a homegrown product, enticing potential buyers is the biggest challenge. I’m quite lucky with a bit of a TV profile that perhaps makes people more eager or at least curious to try my Posh Pasties, but I’ve still worked incredibly hard to tease the public into buying them and form strong relationships with outlets. What I would recommend is to choose your moment and make some noise with a launch. This could be for a range of chutney, jam, heritage tomatoes, goat meat or cured bacon…. Whatever you are looking to promote there is a chance to get the local press and community behind you with some sort of an event. Don’t be afraid to piggy-back on another relevant festival or farmer’s market, give away samples, create some theatre with a game or competition (for example, I organised a fun pasty crimping race, hired the town crier for a donation to his charity, and gave away pasties to my local rowing team as thanks for representing the town). Dress up, do a demonstration, or create a special product for the launch. After you have officially launched, and this could be done again after a re-branding for any endeavour that may benefit from some extra impetus, start to build a chain of outlets and people interested in stocking your unique smallholding product. I have found that giving away samples and organising a formal taster session is a great way to cement a relationship – free food speaks to everyone on a very personal level! Follow this up with a professional delivery service and Bob’s your uncle. CROWDFUNDER Starting up a business is hard work, and I would say it is even more difficult if you have a smallholding because ‘time waits for no man’. The message doesn’t seem to get through to livestock or weeds and, as we all know, there is always something else that needs doing. Plus, with the price of feed and the expense of a smallholding, it is often a challenge to raise funds for new projects. I would strongly recommend looking into www.crowdfunder.co.uk. This nationwide initiative is a way of raising money in exchange for rewards. The basic premise is that you advertise the fact that you need to raise £5,000 for a new cheese making press, cordial bottle sterilisation unit, or a bespoke smokehouse for your rare breed streaky bacon. Then your local community can pledge amounts of money online in return for rewards. The trick is to be creative and offer exciting rewards that are unique. The Posh Pasty Company recently attempted to crowdfund for a food truck to sell pasties around the South West and we offered a host of different rewards ranging from £30 – £1,000, and from an individually created flavour of pasty to catering for a wedding! It is a superb idea and worth investigating further if you need financial support but dislike the idea of borrowing from a bank. MEALS ON WHEELS – CATERING CONSULTANCY Next I want to cover the concept of food trucks or, more generally, catering around your local area. Food trucks became hugely popular in California a few years ago and are currently on-trend in London. They redefine the burger van and celebrate good produce, but done cheaply and with some real street food theatre. Smallholders by nature produce artisan products on a small scale, and a quick cash turnover helps fuel the machine. Often we are able to be more experimental than large farms and therefore can be on the cutting edge of gourmet food without slipping into the trap of too much style over substance. The challenge I have then found is how you take your goods around the local farmers’ markets or food festivals whilst maintaining your USPs and all of the branding that makes your special. Turning up at a food festival with a trestle table and a few cold boxes is fine, but I think that a little like a car boot sale. No offense intended whatsoever; as I said earlier, time is a smallholder’s worst enemy and sometimes just getting away from the farm is hard enough. However, if you do try to make space in this year’s calendar then I think there are loads of perks to implementing a catering solution tailored to your needs. At this point I will introduce Dom Thorpe, a lovely young guy who is straight-up, honest and full of ideas. Dom came down and ran through options with me about how to sell pasties around the South West. He runs www.cateringconsultant.net. Imagine turning up at your local events with a tractor converted into the coolest catering vehicle, or an old Morris Minor converted into a gourmet hog roast van, cheese in a 2CV… whatever rocks your boat! I’ve opted for a vintage VW pick-up that we’re converting with a canvas awning and posh pasty truck. Dom will help offer ideas, suggest solutions and draw up detailed plans. If you think that this range of spreading the smallholding could tie in with your smallholding, then give it a go – highly recommended! TICKING THE BOXES If you are looking to prepare food from your smallholding to sell, then here’s a quick tick list that may help get the ball rolling… COUNCIL VISIT – Apply to the local council as soon as possible to set the wheels in motion and they will send out an expert to assess your location. FRIDGES & FREEZERS – Record everything! Start with internal fridge temperatures, dates of deliveries, dates of orders – anything and everything needs recording. This is a real headache but good practice to start early. CLEANING – Always have your cleaning products in a separate area from where you are preparing food and keep two brands in case one develops any immunity to bacteria. WOOD – Where possible opt for stainless steel and plastic and try to remove wood from the food prep areas. HAIR NETS – I hate them but they are very useful and, combined with a hat, keep any stray hairs out. CHANGING ROOM – Create an area where you can change into your work clothes rather than popping in and out. This also draws a clear line for when you are working and when you are smallholding (which is also working but in a different way).