22 December 2000

Range of selling outlets, but care needed

DIRECT marketing may seem attractive in theory, but in reality the process should be thought of as a whole new enterprise which involves time, money and hassle.

"To ensure the quality and integrity of produce is hard work, especially when dealing with customers, red tape and co-ordinating the supply chain," said Jo Budden of Devon-based, Higher Hacknell Farm.

The 142ha (350-acre) organic family-run farm supports 140 South Devon beef cattle, about 800 sheep – including lambs – and 24ha (60 acres) of corn.

Mrs Budden has sold meat to the public through various outlets. The business is selling five and 10kg meat boxes via mail order. They contain various cuts and are delivered by couriers straight from the butcher. Orders are taken by phone, through the post or by e-mail.

The internet is becoming more important. "About a third of orders come in through our web-site, which is convenient for us and the customer as they take less time to processs." It was also less expensive than producing a wide-distribution glossy brochure, she added.

Continuity of supply can be a problem and Mrs Budden is reluctant to buy in supplies to meet demand. "In spring, we have six weeks when we cannot supply lamb, so we explain the seasonality of production to consumers in a newsletter, which is produced every few months."

Another avenue open to producers is the farm shop, although she advised caution. "Location is important, especially if you live in an isolated area, capital investment can be high and staff are needed."

Farmers Markets are a good option for building up a customer base and they complement a mail order business, said Mrs Budden. "Customers can see and perhaps taste the produce, meet the farmer and develop an attachment to the brand."

There are now 250 Farmers Markets throughout the country, turning over £65m a year, according to James Pavitt, co-ordinator of the National Association of Farmers Markets. "Two-thirds of business is done through promotion, with the customer coming back to buy at a later date, so do not be disappointed if you only cover costs on the stall." Producers must also learn to love the public, he added.

As Higher Hacknell Farm already has a substantial customer base they no longer sell at Farmers Markets because of equipment costs, demands on time and stall expenses.

Although firmly established, the business could not afford to stand still, added Mrs Budden. "We must be innovative in the way we direct-market produce and we are looking to build up a producer group under our brand name to help other farmers and find growth through volume selling." &#42

Direct marketing should be regarded as a whole new enterprise, says Jo Budden of Higher Hacknell, Farm, Devon.

DIRECT SALES

&#8226 Regard as whole new enterprise.

&#8226 Internet site complements mail order.

&#8226 Farmers Markets for customer base.