How You Can Sell Your Produce to Local Restaurants
Nov 25, 2020 02:50 PM EST | By Ernest Hamilton
Whether you're a full-time farmer or a gardener who took your green thumb to the next level, selling your produce to local markets is a great way to earn a primary or supplemental income for your passion. Over the past few years, community-supported agricultural operations have increased. Today, many people check where their food is coming from; they care about sustainable practices and go out of their way to support local businesses.
This new shift in food trends helps farmers and gardeners make money and helps restaurant owners potentially save costs, develop new marketing strategies, and cultivate better relationships with the people who provide them with the ingredients necessary to run their businesses. Aspiring market gardeners may be intimated by the farm to consumer business model, but by taking the right steps, you'll find that it's not difficult to create your own produce brand and yield a profit. With that in mind, here's how you can begin selling your product to local restaurants:
When you're just starting out, your goal should be to start small. Starting small allows you to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant industry and work out the kinks as you go. If you reach out to too many restaurant owners at once, you may find yourself overworked and you could end up under-delivering. The last thing you want to do is ruin potentially great connections and damage your reputation because you started too soon. Begin by focusing on one or two restaurants for a few seasons before you consider scaling.
Target the Right Restaurants
Not all restaurants are treated equally. Knowing your audience will prevent you from wasting time trying to pitch restaurant owners who aren't interested in local produce or who already have developed long-lasting relationships with other suppliers. Typically, local restaurants are sourcing locally. Learn more about where they source from and create crop plans that rival your competition.
Get Involved In Your Local Food Scene
If you want to make a name for yourself, get involved in the local food scene. What events are your target chefs attending? Make it a priority to go where they go and start networking. Be sure to have business cards on hand. If there are local farmer's markets, research ways you can get involved. You should also look for local meetups to find other farmers and individuals in the food industry who you can build relationships with.
Highlight Your Benefits
When you begin pitching restaurants, it's important for you to highlight your benefits. What makes you different from other farmers? If you use sustainable business practices and products, mention this. Perhaps you use hydroponic nutrients to conserve water or reduce chemical usage. Or maybe you have an interesting mission statement and background. How can you benefit them? What can you offer besides product? It may be difficult to think like a salesman, but it's important for you to carefully consider each of your advantageous areas and list them out.
Grow New Crops
Sometimes, you'll need to one-up the competition in order to stand out. This might mean adding new crops to your arsenal to help restaurateurs achieve their goals and be competitive within their own industries. For instance, high-end restaurants are always looking for new ways to refresh their menu and add value in order to outshine other high-end restaurants.
You can put yourself in a favorable position by growing rare fruits and vegetables. Or, you can focus on growing winter crops and harvesting produce that isn't typically grown by farmers, like turnips. You might decide to focus on specialty greens or unusual fruit varieties like figs. Whatever the case, the goal is to think outside the box and pivot your strategy to accommodate the current restaurant climate.
Build the Relationship
After you've landed a contract or two with a restaurant owner, it's important to continue building upon that relationship and fostering it. Just like your plants, business relationships need nurturing. To help strengthen the connection and keep them coming back season after season, be as communicative as possible without being overbearing-after all, they still have a business to run. For instance, you might host a harvest day where line cooks and staff can come visit the farm or garden and see how the crops are doing and how you cater to them each day.