Buying beef directly from farmers

buying local beefThe strength of the local food movement and the potential of an untapped urban market keen to buy high quality beef direct from farmers are behind a new marketing initiative underway by Beef Farmers of Ontario.

Farm to City Marketing is based on the popular community-supported agriculture (CSA) model that has been successful for vegetable producers, said BFO Policy Advisor Katie Dettman in a presentation at the annual general meeting of the Agricultural Adaptation Council last December.

“We want to create a direct-to-consumer business option to viably support beef producers,” she explained, adding that the concept would allow consumers to order and pay for beef online and then have the product dropped off weekly or monthly at a pre-designated high density urban location like a condominium tower, community centre or office complex.

“It can be difficult for farmers to direct-deliver product to customers at individual locations, so the idea is for farmers to only have to visit one drop off location that will have a large consumer base.”

This model would build on direct producer-consumer communications that are popular with urban “foodies” and provide an opportunity to include value-added items like cooking tips and recipes.

To kick off the project, BFO commissioned market research firm Environics to identify opportunities and market potential for this Ontario beef direct marketing concept.

Survey results regarding branding preferences showed that 66 per cent of consumers want a specific label or identifier on their beef and 51 per cent are looking for recipes or cooking instructions.

As well, when asked about what motivates their beef buying decisions, 84 per cent said high quality, 77 per cent care about proximity to their location, and 75 per cent want locally grown beef to be comparable in price to what is in the grocery store.

The average Ontario household spends approximately $248 per year on beef and the average per capita consumption came in at just over 44 pounds (approximately 20 kilograms) per person in Canada in 2012.

“Our research shows that about 15 per cent of the beef-eating population would be interested in a program like this,” said Dettman. “In a city the size of Toronto, if 15 per cent of the population uses it, this would be worth $74 million to the Ontario beef industry, which demonstrates the potential of such a program.”

Dettman said one of the big challenges of the project is that the consumers in their target market are wary of anything too unfamiliar.

As well, BFO does not want to compete with any existing local beef businesses, but overall, the organization is encouraged by the potential of a direct-to-consumer business model for beef farmers.

Next steps in project development include getting farmers on board, determining fresh versus frozen options and packaging requirements and looking at pricing strategies, as well as developing online ordering infrastructure and establishing partnerships with potential drop-off locations.

A committee of BFO directors is helping to provide input into the program, Dettman said.

Photo courtesy of www.farmphotos.ca, an initiative of Farm & Food Care.

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