22 December 2000

Be a price maker not a taker – Soil Association

Direct marketing of organic

meat to consumers was

under discussion at a Soil

Association meeting, held in

Berks. Hannah Velten reports

ORGANIC producers are advised to become price makers not takers, directly marketing meat products to the public rather than losing customer contact and relinquishing control to supermarkets.

Phil Stocker, senior agricultural development officer of the Soil Association told the conference, at Sheepdrove Farm, Lambourn, that direct marketing allowed producers to gain customers trust, increasing security due to repeat ordering.

"Direct selling gives customers quality produce at a fair price, peace of mind through ultimate traceability, accountability and a sense of belonging," he said.

But product integrity must be retained to maintain prices for organic stock, warned Mr Stocker. "Care must be taken to keep up high production, processing and inspection standards and use effective branding so customers know what they are buying."

Traditionally, marketing is not a skill producers needed to be concerned about, said Dan Weston, project manager of Northern Dales Red Meat Initiative, which has set up meat retailing courses.

"Producers now need to understand meat retailing and be aware of issues such as sustaining a cohesive supply chain – including abattoir and butcher – maintaining a customer base and adding value to their products," he said.

Planning was important to ensure that direct marketing succeeded. "There are small margins involved in direct selling, it is not a licence to print money. Consider what margin you want and work backwards to the consumer taking into account all costs, including time, effort and price sensitivity; turnover is vanity, but profit is sanity," said Mr Weston.

Giving customers what they wanted was vital. Eating quality was important and that dependended on breed, butchery and hanging, said Mark Stephens, head butcher at Graig Farm Organics in the Welsh Borders.

Breed of cattle used was really down to circumstances, but native breeds could be marketed as a unique selling point, he said. "Stress at slaughter should be minimised as it can have a detrimental impact on meat quality, this means resting animals overnight at the abattoir before they are slaughtered when possible."

To increase flavour and texture of meat, Mr Stephens advised hanging beef for two to three weeks and lambs for seven to 10 days. Packing and presentation of meat was equally important as that persuaded people to buy the product.

"Customers are used to supermarket meat, which is lean, so direct sellers should remove as much fat as possible," he said. &#42

Organic producers must gain the trust of consumers, says the SAs Phil Stocker.