I recently had the opportunity to attend the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Managers Academy in Albuquerque, N.M.
Don’t let the name Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin fool you into thinking it’s only for Wisconsin dairy producers. Some of the brightest minds from across the dairy industry gather at this event every year.
The Academy consists of two days of classroom instruction on management and leadership and one day of business tours. Each component offers excellent advice that you can take home and use. And each business owner shares practical insight and unique perspectives with the group.
But the tour that really hit home for me was Los Poblanos Organics. I think Los Poblanos Organics has the right marketing strategy in mind and one that we can all learn from.
“We never let anything leave our farm without a story attached. This way people can put our name behind our food,” says Monte Skarsgard, owner of Los Poblanos Organics.
“Food used to be what reminded us of what time of the year it was. Now, we enter the grocery store and it all looks the same — consumers have lost the connection with the land,” he says.
Skarsgard points out that most people spend their days in rooms that are 70 degrees F year-round, an issue which furthers the disconnect between consumers and agriculture.
One of the goals at Los Poblanos Organic Farms is to reconnect consumers with the land, people who grow food and the whole process of food production.
Los Poblanos Organic Farms is CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA, Skarsgard says, is the next step past the farmers market; consumers sign up in advance for food. “Unlike a farmers market, where customers might not show up to buy produce because of bad weather or a football game on TV, they show up because they paid for the food in advance,” he notes. Los Poblanos Organics also delivers food to its customers’ doorstep.
A wide variety of crops are grown at Los Poblanos Organics, but, in addition, they also work with a network of farmers and ranchers in the region. This ensures that Los Poblanos customers receive the widest selection of fruits and vegetables while still having access to meats, eggs, dairy and other staples.
Skarsgard says once they have the commitment from the consumer to purchase food, it opens up a lane of communication about the farm and the other farms in its network. This avenue of communication allows Los Poblanos Organics to educate its customers on how things are grown, what things look like, and who the farmers are that grow the products.
And, business has been doing very well, despite the bad economic times. In the last two years, Los Poblanos Organics has been able to grow its business by 30 percent. “We’ve been able to build and grow our business because of customer loyalty,” notes Skarsgard. And, he says, there is a lot more to it than just a tomato. It’s about value-added; it’s about that story that is attached to every product that leaves the farm.
The story of Los Poblanos Organics is shared through one-on-one communication, through pictures on social media and farm visits. “We never miss an opportunity to share what’s happening on the farm, information on why we farm the way we do, and why we raise our animals this way,” says Skarsgard.
Even if a product would go through a regular distribution channel, the Los Poblanos Organics story would be attached. “Whether it’s a grocery store or restaurant, we would encourage them to bring our story along to their customers,” says Skarsgard. “This is something every producer can do.”
Los Poblanos Organics customers can come out and see the animals on the farms and the life the animals are living. And the best part of all this, he says, is that it’s cool to be a farmer again.
In addition to always attaching a story to its products, Los Poblanos Organics says they always focus on the positive side of things when it comes to marketing.
When it comes to marketing organic or conventional, some companies use negativity against one or the other to promote the products, but not at Los Poblanos Organics. “We focus on positive stuff, like the taste of our melons,” says Skarsgard. “Negativity isn’t sustainable.”
The customer loyalty that Los Poblanos Organics has developed has paid off, in particular when it comes to financing. Five years ago, they started the Angel Organic Fund which allows customers to invest in Los Poblanos Organics. For minimum of $10,000, a customer can make an investment into Los Poblanos Organics. In return, they receive interest-only payments of 10 percent. Some customers choose to receive their interest-only payments in food every week. Customers can ask for their money back after two years. As a result, Los Poblanos is now owned by its customers.