TFWF#43: The great sales conundrum.

Its been busy on the farm since the flood. Not only has there been lots on fencing to be done we have also changed our structure for feeding, sorting and weaning the grower pigs, in addition to this we have also had eight litters in two months and increased the breeding herd to 22 sows.

Whilst we have been busy many of you might have also noticed that we have been absent from the markets, the cafes and the restaurants. Our disappearance from the outside world is due to, what I shall now call, the great sales conundrum (or GSC), brought about by a lack of good free range pork producers and a plethora of supportive customers.

The GSC is basically an over demand of product and whilst I know I am lucky to be in that situation I really don’t like letting people down, turning down opportunities or being sporadic in supply. In order to explain my conundrum in more detail I thought I might outline all the potential sales channels that we have, each with their own pros and cons and then I thought it might be nice for you all to give me some advice and feedback, via a comment on here or on Facebook.

Farmers Markets.

When we started the business we always planned to attend farmers markets, we chose Fielding and Thorndon because they appeared to be authentic grower markets. Unfortunately as time went on we found ourselves competing with a butcher from Wellington in Fielding and a general retailer selling meat from the store in Hawkes Bay at the Thorndon market. Despite this I really enjoy the markets, I get to meet a great deal of lovely customers and characters, I get direct feedback and its a great opportunity to grow business opportunities. I have also been able to try lots of different cuts of meat to see what sells best and showcase the quality of the meat. On the downside the markets take three days of valuable time on the farm, a day to prepare and two days at the markets, and the success of the day is very dependant on the weather. Financially the markets work for us because we sell direct to our customers and the only extra costs are the market fees and the fuel.

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Online Sales.

We had always planned to sell product via the website but we never had enough stock to attend the markets and sell online. The flood changed all that when we were unable to get to the markets and had a trailer full of meat to sell. We thought it best to trial online sales and managed to sell out in 49 mins. After that first trial we continued attending the markets and also selling small quantities of meat packs online. In August we took a break from sales to focus on the farm and came back in September with a greater focus on the online side of the business. The packs have been selling very well, I have enjoyed the customer feedback from all over the country and without any middle men we make a full margin (less the costs of sales). Obviously it takes a day to prepare and pack and we worry about the delivery arriving fresh but so far all has gone well and we have successfully delivered over 800 packets of bacon and sausages. I do miss getting to meet my customers face to face but the gain in time on the farm is, at this point, much needed.

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Restaurants and Cafes.

I love working with the owners and chefs of restaurant and cafes. These are the people that challenge the preparation of food and have the experience to truly grade the quality of our meat against others, it is their feedback that helps me to provide better quality product to everyone. I have been lucky to work with some excellent restaurants who have respected the way we grow our meat and promoted Woody’s to their customers. But, with only limited stocks at the moment, we have to manage our profitability and therefore we focus on our direct sales via the markets or online. This means that we are not able to supply the chefs on a regular enough basis, or large enough quality, and will often loose out on opportunities.  My goal is to be able to work regularly with a small number of restaurants around the country as soon as our stock levels rise.

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Speciality retailers.

Without a doubt the best way to promote your product and your brand is to have product in front of customers all the time. Unfortunately markets are only once a week and selling online relies on customers to find you, not the other way around. Putting product on the shelves in speciality stores who promote quality, niche products associates our brand with theirs and  encourages sales on a daily basis. The downside is again that retailers also need to make money, to pay their associated costs, and with limited stock we simply cannot afford to be on too many of those shelves. Additionally, whilst speciality retailers are very good at explaining to their customers about the provenance of the food they sell we, as the grower, do not get to talk direct to our customers, something that I think is very important.

Supermarkets.

In my previous life as a consumer electronics executive I spent a lot of time selling to supermarkets. Unfortunately supermarkets have all of the bad elements of speciality retailers with none of the good elements. They are not willing to take the time to talk about provenance, they do not fairly share profitability and over time they gradually reduce the value of your product in the consumers eyes, normally by heavy and unwarranted discounting. Any farmer who works with the supermarkets knows that the vanity of a high turnover of stock is not a replacement for the low profitability. Of course nationwide exposure and a single point of delivery is attractive to some, but not us.

Having broken down the pros and cons of all our potential retail outlets I am keen to hear what you think we should do, and who we should focus on. At the moment our limited stocks means that we can only afford to concentrate on the markets and online store but we hope to be able to continue supporting the restaurants, cafes and small speciality stores that we currently sell too. Moreover the chiller trailer is currently out of action so we have to concentrate on online sales until some work has been carried out on the trailer, when that is fixed we intend to attend one market a months and sell online twice a month. Maybe one day we will have greater exposure across the country.

All pigs are equal…but they are NOT like cattle or sheep!

At the advice of Jeremy from Longbush Pork I attended my very first NZ A&P show. I was quite pleased because my first A&P show was the ROYAL show in Fielding, surely if it had been given the grand name of ROYAL SHOW it was going to be good. I had recollections of the grand East Of England Show that I used to attend with my parents in Peterborough (UK) many years ago, with its massive tractors, trucks, shows, candyfloss and many other events slightly related to agriculture.

I arrived on the first day of the show and it was most definitely not in full swing. Amongst the crowds of stewards were a few visitors hiding away in the tents where an Italian gentleman was showing his new range of cookware and New Zealand’s most famous Port was attracting, literally, crowds of absolutely no one. I circled the show looking for two things, the pigs that I had come for and some food that I had come to need. Food came in the guise of a packet of chips and a bottle of pepsi, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat another of those hot dogs on a stick. The pigs were elusive, studying a map I could see where they were supposed to be but all I could find were horses and cattle and a few storage buildings. I circled three times before choosing to wander into one of the storage buildings and sure enough, looking very sad, was the greatest and largest of New Zealands pigs just waiting for….anything to happen.

Dont get me wrong its not just a New Zealand thing that pigs are treated like, well, pigs but its always a real disappointment to me that an animal we know has the same intelligence of a three year old child doesn’t get the same treatment, recognition or even humanity that we give to cows and horses. While the horses pranced around inside the dry main arena and the cows enjoyed their own marquee tents the pigs laid on concrete, with no water or feed, in an outbuilding being looked after by a teenager barely capable of lifting a bucket to put water into the empty pigs water troughs (after being ordered to by a passing stranger). Are we ashamed of pigs?

So after driving for a hour to Fielding the Royal show was not the pig buying ground that I had expected, in fact it was not even a place that pigs should be if they are going to be treated like that. No wonder that pig farmers are looked upon with derision and kids don’t know that bacon comes from a pig, pigs are like the child of the 19th century – neither seen nor heard.  In fairness I should say that it was only the first day and if I give them the benefit of the doubt probably the worst day for me to visit (lets hope they had water every other day). The few pigs that were in situ were a good selection of breeds so I took some photos:

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It appears that many do not share my view but I think pigs are beautiful, all of the above breeds are special and should be treated as such. I would like to think that perhaps in some small way I can get New Zealands to start to respect the pig and enjoy them more in both life and death. Perhaps even bring the sexy back to pigs that the horses and cattle still enjoy at the A&P shows around the country. Pigs are not dirty, they are not to be ashamed off, they are to be treated with respect and eaten with relish…