Marketing Produce to Restaurants
Think ahead to your first harvest of 2015: you have a field or greenhouse filled with beautiful, lush and highly profitable crops waiting to be sold. The tomatoes are plumper and redder than ever and the heads of hydroponically grown lettuce have broad leaves that are the ideal shade of green. Maybe it’s even your best growing year to date. Sure, you can put your produce in your roadside stand, invite customers to pick their own or travel the region displaying your handiwork at local markets, but this year you know that your harvest is worth more and want something different for it.
Well, marketing your produce to local restaurants could be the perfect way to boost its worth and get it into the hands of those that truly appreciate it. In order to get your goods into the local restaurants you’ll have to be aware of local and national food trends, familiarize yourself with local restaurants, produce marketing materials and set up meetings with local chefs, managers and restaurateurs.
Monitor Food Trends
Food trends change on a yearly – if not seasonal – basis, but one trend that has stayed relevant year after year is the desire for restaurant goers to feast on fresh, locally grown products. In an increasingly health conscious society, consumers look for natural foods with no preservatives, and with the support-your-local-business sentiment at an all-time high, the restaurant world has never been more ready for your natural, locally grown produce.
In order to take control of your restaurant scene, you’ll have to monitor regional and national trends. As the national kale fervor has lessened in the past years, here in the Northeast menus have been heavily laden with Brussels sprouts and beets, and there also appears to be a developing affinity for locally sourced grains and local smoked meats. A number of food-trend forecasts predict that in 2015 produce with blemishes and imperfections could rise in popularity, as well as simplified recipes that highlight top-notch produce. This is great news for you, because your product that was once unmarketable may actually be in high demand. Even with existing and developing trends, it is important that you realize that as a local grower you actually have the ability to start the next food trend.
Get to Know Your Food Scene
Before you start the next trend, you’ll have to get your produce on the tables of your local restaurants. This will require some networking, and as you monitor trends, you can also familiarize yourself with the local restaurants. Find popular restaurants that actively talk about their use of fresh, local foods. Maybe that sounds too specific, but it shouldn’t be too hard to identify these places. Closely inspect menus. It will give you some insight into what local chefs are looking for, and it could also tip you off to what they’re missing out on. High-end restaurants are always considering food trends and looking to start new trends, so you can help them by providing unique produce.
As you’re scouting restaurants, try sitting at the bar. Staff tends to congregate here, and you should be able to figure out who to talk to about providing food just by surveying the action. If not, a bartender can always point you in the right direction. However, it is important to not sell your produce during a restaurant’s busy hours. This could potentially anger the staff and turn them off from your products. Instead, call or go to the restaurant in the morning or just after lunch and schedule a meeting for a time that is convenient for them.
You should also try getting involved in the local food community. Attending pop ups and other foodie events is a good way to meet the major players. Volunteer at these events, and never overlook the farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets are an invaluable place to network, and you never know who you’ll meet. Take the time to get to know your customers and others that attend these markets.
Provide Marketing Materials
If and when you establish a meeting, you’re not going to want to go empty handed. Pick out samples of some of your finest produce and also create a list of everything that you could potentially provide the restaurant. A pamphlet or brochure can also be a helpful tool. It quickly provides pertinent information and reminds chefs and restaurateurs of your presence in the community. Your pamphlet or brochure will need a headline, and if you’re planning on making it double sided, make sure each side has a headline. Ensure that a brief glance at either side clearly states who you are and what you provide, and keep it short and simple. The text shouldn’t be too dense or appear daunting. Get pictures that display the quality of your produce, and you may also want to consider making one of the sides an order form. This instantly gives those that receive your marketing material a chance to buy, so you may even get sales without having to give any kind of pitch.
Meeting with Restaurateurs, Managers and Chefs
Have you ever met a chef or restaurant owner? Often times they are one-of-a-kind individuals that are under constant stress and pressure, and this can make them difficult to work with. They may be wary of new business relationships, due to the specter of unreliability, so you have to make sure that your meeting goes as smoothly as possible. High-end restaurants have displayed an interest year after year in partnering with dependable growers that not only show the ability to provide high-quality produce, but also take an interest in the restaurant’s success. Since restaurants regularly pay high prices for fresh and local produce, you’re going to have to make a good impression. Dress well. Look professional. Even if it isn’t something that you particularly care about, just do it.
In the meeting you’ll have to ensure that you can produce goods that are consistent in their delivery and quality. Over promising and not being able to deliver is a sure way to destroy the grower-restaurant relationship. Chefs have busy schedules and menus to prepare and worry about, so always deliver produce on time and do your best to exceed expectations. And remember, just as you’re running a business, so is the person you’re meeting with. You need to recognize that your prices directly affect their business, so don’t price yourself out of consideration.
As the meeting comes to an end, extend an invitation to the restaurant to visit your operation – especially if it is particularly impressive. It is a good way to end the meeting and will increase your chances of continued communication.
Marketing your produce to restaurants is an ideal way to create beneficial business relationships and increase your income. The current restaurant trends make this more feasible now than ever before, so start thinking about how you can best market and sell your future harvests to your local restaurants.