Practices to Enhance Marketing of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are usually more difficult to market than to produce. There are ready markets available daily or weekly for grain and livestock in almost all areas of the United States. There are few similar markets for fruits and vegetables. Most commodities are produced in abundance and long established market channels may be closed to small scale or new producers. A producer may need several years to establish a marketing program. The number of produce buyers has decreased rapidly in recent years.
One major nationwide supermarket chain has plans to consolidate the number of buying stations for produce to eight in the United States. A grower has little chance of selling to a local store in a supermarket chain as purchases are made through a central warehouse. As the number of buyers has decreased, the number of producers has decreased, but their acreage has increased considerably. There is often a delay of four to six months after shipment in receiving payment in the wholesale market system when selling through a broker. This often presents a cash flow problem for many growers.
Wholesale buyers have strict and specific product quality, grade, and packaging requirements. These purchasing practices and price squeezes have eliminated market availability to many producers. The future shows more promise for large scale producers or small scale producers than for mid sized producers. The large scale producer can afford the large equipment needed for production, and the use of migrant labor. Small scale producers can use smaller equipment, often hand operated, and family or local labor to substitute for other equipment. Large producers are linked through brokers to supply produce over a relatively long season or year round and it is difficult for small scale producers to supply the quantity and quality required over a long period. Both types of producers can be highly successful or can go broke as production and marketing practices are highly volatile. A mid sized producer is less efficient, and often can't economically justify the purchase of needed equipment or substitute labor for equipment. The small scale producer needs to seek local market channels. There are opportunities, but a producer must work to find them.
Direct to the consumer markets bring highest prices to the producer, but also require more producer time in marketing. A diverse group of crops is ideal, since market demand changes rapidly. A commodity may sell well and bring high prices for a long period, but demand and prices may drop drastically over night. Supply and demand has a tremendous effect on marketability and prices of produce. There are no federal support prices for fruits and vegetables to help the grower when market demand or prices drop. Pick-your-own was a popular practice a few years ago. Society has changed and many people do not have time for harvest. Most consumers would rather buy produce that is harvested, and a popular developing trend is to prepare produce for the market that is as near ready to eat as possible. Precut salads and green beans are good examples of this practice. Shelf life of precut produce is relatively short, and cooling is essential.
There are opportunities for small scale producers for on-farm markets, organized farm markets, locally owned supermarkets, and locally owned fruit and vegetable markets. When selling to any market, and especially to local supermarkets or fruit and vegetable markets, good communication between producer and buyer is essential. A producer needs to know what, when, and how much the buyer can use. The buyer needs to know what is available and when, as he has to keep the shelves stocked. Determining a fair price can be difficult. Daily market prices are available on the internet. County Extension personnel can access this information for producers. Retailers generally double the price paid to account for shrinkage and spoilage. Crop and variety selection are critical factors in marketing. Buyers are indifferent to the origin of most crops.
Locally grown produce is much preferred versus other crops, primarily due to the difference in quality (flavor). Preferences for locally grown fruit and vegetable crops are apparent for sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. These commodities either are harvested for shipping before top quality is attained, or rapidly lose quality during post harvest handling and shipping. Different varieties may be used in shipping markets as compared to local markets. The sweet corn shipping market uses mostly supersweet type varieties. Local markets may use supersweet type varieties, but usually prefer SE or SU type varieties. Certain crops or varieties are preferred in specific locations, and a ready local market may exist for a specific item that is not widely available. A local Crossville, Tennessee market owner recently shared a list of items that he had difficulty in obtaining, and that he needed during the summer season. His list included Half Runner, McCaslan, Caseknife and Greasy beans; pickling cucumbers of 1.