Market Ready Farm to Restaurant – Product Supply Recommendation
There are many factors to consider before selling your farm products directly to restaurant owners, managers, and chefs. Marketing management is an important component in the startup and decision-making processes for new and beginning producers interested in direct sales. The purpose of this series of publications is to inform Virginia producers about marketing and legal risk management tools, techniques, and resources available to help them prepare to sell food and food products directly to restaurant clientele.
Topics covered in this paper are expected to improve producer decision-making by providing a better understanding of product supply considerations to help them manage risks associated with the legal aspects specific to direct marketing relationships. The topics covered in this resource are not all-inclusive, but after reading this publication, producers should be better prepared to build relationships with restaurant clients.
This is one publication of a 7-part series, available on the Farm to Fork Direct Market portal. A resource list that include examples, resources, blog posts and case study YouTube video interviews of successful farm to restaurant business owners, and upcoming training dates is available at the end of this publication.
For questions about this or other farm startup topics, contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
There are plenty of restaurants out there who want to source products locally. Using local ingredients is a great way to differentiate themselves, add value to their meals, and ultimately attract a higher price from patrons. However, for many restaurants the main barrier to sourcing more products directly from producers are insufficient and/or inconsistent product quantities to meet their needs. Farmers who are able to expand their product supply and improve consistent product availability to their buyers, they may pursue larger volume clients resulting in more lucrative business opportunities.
Consistent availability of a product is one of the primary issues related to supply, particularly fresh producer, dairy, and meats. If a restaurant can’t order enough of a product to keep it on the menu all the time, they have less incentive to source their product from that farmer. Farmers should plan to provide enough product for a consistent number of meals per week to their restaurant buyer. Should an unexpected supply disruption occur behind the farm gate, they need to communicate any supply issues and offer solutions to the restaurant with as much advance notice as possible.
As with the rest of the direct marketing process, communication is key. Farmers must be able to tell chefs how much product they can consistently provide and precise availability schedules. Some farmers and chefs may even wish to plan the growing season together so they know how much of each product will be grown to meet restaurant patron tastes and preferences.
Depending on the product grown, farmers may be able to take steps in their production methods to ensure a more consistent supply of product. Livestock producers may wish to adjust their breeding programs. Produce growers may wish to consider greenhouses, hoop houses, or row covers to extend their growing season. They should also consider planting times and the varieties used.
Farmers should also consider the networks available to them when forming a supply chain. They can find advice, programs, and sometimes even grants or loans through federal or state agencies. They can also join grower marketing or production cooperatives and band together with other producers to supply larger amounts to restaurants at greater consistency.
The Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative is a great example of producers banding together to provide a consistent volume of high-quality product to customers. SVBC consists of six member-owners who came together to produce high-quality, antibiotic-free beef. Since they came together as a cooperative, they’ve been able to supply Clyde’s Restaurant Group in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, as well as providing beef served at Washington Nationals home games, none of which would have been possible as individuals. Hear more of their story in Virginia Market Ready’s interview with member-owners Wade Hawkins and Terry Sager on the Virginia Market Ready YouTube channel!
When farmers band together, they can stagger production so that product is available more consistently. If farmers can find peers that they trust and whose product they would be willing to stand behind, they should start the conversation about banding together. This can give both parties access to bigger and better deals, as well as a more consistent cash flow.
Providing a stable, consistent supply of product to restaurant customers can help farmers form long-standing, lucrative business relationships. A solid supply can make the difference between supplying ingredients for a one-off special and a beloved menu mainstay.
For more information about direct marketing of your farm products in Virginia, please contact Kim Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-231-3132, or, visit the Farm to Fork Direct Marketing Resources portal at ext.vt.edu/agriculture/market-ready.html. For more information and resources directly aimed at beginning farmers, visit the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program at www.vabeginningfarmer.org.
The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program is a statewide, coalition-based extension program. The program is housed in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and is a program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. The Virginia Market Ready Farm to Restaurant Program is sponsored by the Southern Extension Risk Management Education Center of the USDA Subaward #21667-14.
Garber, B. 30 November 2016. Conversation with Wade Hawkins and Terry Sager of the Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative. Virginia Cooperative Extension Market Ready Farm-to-Fork Direct Marketing Resources Blog. Link: https://blogs.ext.vt.edu/market-ready/2016/11/30/conversation-with-wade-hawkins-and-terry-sager-of-the-shenandoah-valley-beef-cooperative/
Garber, B. 17 May 2017. Interview with Wade Hawkins and Terry Sager, Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLxDm5uKBsw
Vallotton, A., A. Battah, R. Knox, A. Vargo, T. Archibald, R. Boyer, N. Cook, and T. Drape. 2017. “Accessing Virginia’s Market Sectors: Fresh Produce Purchasing Considerations.” Virginia Cooperative Extension Service Publication, HORT272-NP. Link: https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/HORT/HORT-272NP/HORT-272NP.pdf
Virginia Cooperative Extension Market Ready Farm-to-Fork Direct Marketing Resources portal. 2019. Link: https://ext.vt.edu/agriculture/market-ready.html
Virginia Cooperative Extension Market Ready Farm-to-Fork Direct Marketing Resources YouTube Channel. 2019. Link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnlhujb2Yq966WytPz4GuEw
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program. 2019. Link: www.vabeginningfarmer.org
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law
April 26, 2019