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.

TFWF#34: where we taste fame and suffer famine

Its been a very exciting and full month and we just have to start this post with proof that we are, at last, famous. Following on the heels of my successful little chat on the Radio Live Home and Garden show (at 6:20am) we were on a PR high and the requests for interviews literally came flooding in… from at least one newspaper, the Otaki Mail. I talked about the interview in the last post and one morning, at the beginning of the month, my mate Doug (the Landrover genius) emailed me with a photo:

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My fifteen minutes of local Otaki fame

It you fancy a ‘right good read’ then check out the whole article by clicking on THIS. And I promise you there is more to come as we spread the word of ethical eating.

The winter has really taken its toll over the last month and the pigs are doing what anyone would do, using all their energy to keep warm. The upshot of this is that the growers (the pigs we turn into tasty product) are not getting big enough to take to the market. We try to take pigs to the abattoir at about 60kg, at this size the fat is just about right and the economies work well, the last three were just 50kg each and at the following farmers market we sold out of everything except two lots of sausages and bacon (which I had purposely stocked up on). All of this meant that I had to take the difficult decision to skip a market weekend and give the pigs time to grow bigger. Whilst I hate to let customers down I really had no option and on the flip side it did mean that I got to spend a bit longer with little Fred (who is now ticking on 9 weeks old) and I have been able to do a great deal of planning and farming.

Its been busy on the farm with another pig arc being built, two new paddocks being fenced and a new style of trough being created. You may remember when I first started farming I was keen on trying to build everything out of pallets, the chicken houses, the breeder huts and the feeding platforms. Some worked better than others and whilst the breeder huts have been and all out success, with Reuben and I now able to knock one up in 53 mins, the feeding platforms have not managed well in the mud and constant rain/damp of winter. I realised that in the excitement of being fed the pigs were actually losing quite a lot of food into the mud, it was time for feeding plan B and I already had the perfect solution on the farm, plastic barrels.

As you can see another very simple solution made easy with the help of an old farming book that Reuben lent to me. The open top drums are cut in half with a jigsaw, then bolted together and screwed onto some chunky wooden off cuts (to stop them from rolling around). The key quality is that they waste less food on the ground and can retain the moisture of wet feed, like brewers grain. They are not perfect yet as some of the bigger pigs have already managed to break the wooden feet off but they are far better and more efficient that the wooden version.

This month we also had our first visit from the vet (other than our annual check). Arriving onto the breeding paddock one day it was soon clear something was amiss. The sound of the car signifies food and normally all the pigs come running, this time was different. Lying on the ground in the paddock was Paula, as I drove towards her there was no movement and my heart dropped. The health of my animals is paramount to my whole reason for the farm and it is always a horrible feeling to think that one of my animals might have died on my watch. As I got closer there was no movement until almost upon her she looked up with sad eyes and stared at me from under her long, floppy ears…whew. Paula stood and was able to move but she was hobbling terribly and something was dreadfully wrong, I called the vet. The vet was great, she got to the farm within a few hours and after a good examination she noticed a big scratch across her back which was supported by a large bruise (barely visible on a black pig). She administered a pain-killer and we slowly walked Paula back into her hut.

Paula shortly after farrowing in May

Paula shortly after farrowing in May, looking a lot fatter than she does now.

Paula came good after a few days and in the meantime she got breakfast and dinner brought to her in bed. It’s a mystery what happened to her as there is nothing in the paddock to fall off or bang into. My only thought is that now her and Marigold have been weaned they are starting to go on ‘heat’ and Marigold was having her first heat after weaning. I think that she may have mounted Paula (yes it does happen) and hurt her in the process. As Paula is the dominant female I am sure she will get her own back.

I will leave you this time with a final tale about weaning the Large Black piglets. Reuben and I made our little capture hut out of pallets and plywood and fed them in the hut for a few days. By the time we were ready to transfer them they were happy to walk in the hut but as it was only big enough to get 5 or 6 at a time we had to keep opening and closing it with the piglets slowly becoming reluctant as they realised that their mates were going in but not coming out. After a good amount of squealing, panting and sweating (mostly from me) we managed to pick up the 17 piglets and transfer them from the breeding paddock down to the grower paddock. With the job done I took the following photo, they seemed happy with their new digs, I however ached all over and needed my bed.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.